Nut gut. Food Baby. Brick Belly. Whatever you want to call it, nuts can seriously jack up my stomach. I get so bloated that I look pregnant; I get constipated; and I have flare-ups in a chronic skin condition (hidradenitis superativa) that I usually keep under control. I had steered clear of nuts in my fat phobic years – didn’t we all? But the Paleo movement became a game changer for nuts. Although I don’t follow a strict Paleo diet, I love its message of nutrient-density. It helped spread the word that fats are not bad and that nuts and seeds can be very healthful….in moderation.
Where I Went Wrong….It’s Not Really Paleo’s Fault Moderation. Whaaaaaatttt? Upon discovering that The Paleo Diet encouraged nut consumption, I was like Bring. It. On. Trail mix, LARA bars, nut butters, granola, almond flour – all delicious fair game. I started baking. Baking, baking, baking. Running through bags of $40 almond flour to make delicious treats for my family. OK, for me. This is common when people are transitioning to Paleo – relying on almond and coconut flour based sweet treats to get them off of white flour and processed baked goods. And that’s great! Almond flour definitely has more vitamins and minerals than nutritionally stripped white flour. In moderation, it’s fine. But eating a ton of baked goods-no matter what flour you are using-is never going to be the cornerstone of a healthy diet. I wanted to have my cake (and cookie, and brownie, and pizza crust) and eat it, too – and that’s not Paleo’s fault. Most of my favorite Paleo leaders will caution against too many sweet treats, yet the sheer amount of Paleo dessert recipes on the Internet can give the false impression that you can eat them to your heart’s content….as long as they are made with Paleo approved ingredients.
Nature says Whoa Up! Here is the key point to remember: nature makes nuts hard to get to…on purpose. That’s its way of saying, Hey, not too many, K? If you had to harvest, crack and shell every nut you ate, you wouldn’t be tempted to eat near as many as you do. But when all that hard work has already been done, it’s easy to keep popping them into our mouths. It takes around 90 almonds to make a cup of almond flour. Can you imagine shelling and grinding 90 almonds to make a batch of pancakes?
Why Going Nuts on Nuts is Bad
Here’s the deal, nuts are high in Omega-6 fats. And that’s ok, because our bodies need healthy sources of Omega-6. The problem is, most people have too many Omega-6s in their diets and not enough Omega-3s. When that Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is way off (it should be about a 1:1 ratio, but unfortunately most people have closer to a 20:1 ratio), health problems occur. That skewed ratio creates inflammation which leads to disease and illness. But don’t blame the nuts. Most of that imbalance comes from consuming processed foods and denatured vegetable oils that are high in toxic Omega-6s. So I say, ditch the processed foods and gnarly oils and keep a moderate amount of nuts. Just don’t have granola and a Lara Bar and an almond flour pizza crust all in one day.
Another thing to consider is that nuts contain phytic acid. We often hear Paleo peeps refer to phytic acid as being problematic in legumes and grains, but it can also be problematic in nuts and seeds. According to this article by Chris Kresser, humans can’t digest phytic acid. This is bad because a) it can irritate your digestive system and b) phytic acid binds to minerals (especially iron and zinc) and prevents us from absorbing them. So why are they still acceptable on a Paleo diet? Well, people who follow a Paleo way of eating are already avoiding higher sources of phytic acid found in grains and legumes (like soy and peanuts) which have much less nutrition in them than nuts. People can tolerate a small to moderate amount of phytic acid in the diet and as long as you don’t go overboard with the nuts, it should be fine. One way to make nuts more digestible and the nutrients more assimilable is to soak them first. Some require longer soak times than others but it’s a really good idea to do this if you think about it ahead of time. More on soaking here.
My Favorite Nut…. Is the macadamia nut. And the nut butter? Man, I can’t even keep that stuff in my house because I. Will. Hurt. Myself. The really great thing about the macadamia nut is that it’s the only nut that has a 1:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.
Last Thought: People with digestive disorders and autoimmune disease should be wary of nuts. They can aggravate these conditions.