Going Nuts for Nuts
Nutrition information for soccer players from Amy Dirks. Discover what makes this column so different: Read SoccerToday’s Interview with Amy Dirks
Soccer players of all ages are always looking for nutrition advice and valuable tips for what to eat for peak performance. Here is Amy Dirks’ latest column on Going Nuts for Nuts. Have a nutrition question? Ask Amy! Just email us your question and we will see if we can answer it in an upcoming article on great nutrition ideas for soccer players!
For the longest time, it seemed that peanuts and peanut butter were one of the few options to choose from in the nut category. Today, you can find every type of nut, nut butter, seed, and seed butter on the market.
With so many options, how do you know which is truly healthy and which is hype?
First, let’s make this clear … peanuts are not a nut at all but a legume.
Legumes — such as peas, peanuts, and beans — contains phytates and lectins that can cause some GI distress for some. Peanuts do contain protein and fiber but for those with a sensitive stomach or for anyone wanting to lose weight, eat them sparingly.
The problem is peanut butter is usually full of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (trans fats).
True peanut butter should contain peanuts and maybe salt, nothing more. It’s ok to have a handful of peanuts or a couple tablespoons of peanut butter now and then, but there are way better options now so there’s no excuse to limit yourself.
Before we get into those options, I want to reiterate the importance of healthy fats in the diet. Nuts started getting a bad rap around the ’80s when the low-fat craze went into full bloom. We were told to eat sparingly whole foods such as nuts, oils, meats, eggs, avocados, etc. The food industry happily responded with taking fats out of products and adding sugar to replace it. That has led us down a slippery slope.
The truth is that nuts are not fattening, sugar is. Nuts are extremely energy dense, containing protein, fat, and fiber, all of which help with satiety and maintaining normal blood glucose levels. They also contain minerals and other helpful nutrients.
Nuts can actually help with weight loss, speed metabolism, and help prevent heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. In a trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, those who ate nuts daily, reduced their risk of a heart attack by 30%, as much as a statin drug would, only without the side effects.
Have I convinced you to eat nuts yet?
Due to their antioxidant levels, nuts could also be great for preventing cancer. In order of antioxidant levels;
- Other healthy nuts include Brazil nuts and Macadamia nuts.
Find nuts that are raw or dry roasted. Many flavored or roasted nuts have unhealthy ingredients or use an inflammatory oil for roasting. And, although the sodium can be beneficial, especially for the sweating athlete, many roasted and salted nuts have too much sodium.
Healthy seeds include;
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
Both nuts and seeds can be incorporated into your daily diet with ease. There are many ways to enjoy them: Smoothies —using a decent blender that can grind them —as well as salads, plus chopping and dredging meat in the chopped nuts or grinding them to a fine meal for chicken/fish, trail mixes, blended as a sauce, making a nut milk, or using nut butters — these are just some of the many ways.
Speaking of nut milks and nut butters, how do you know which to choose amongst all of the varieties?
My husband gets frustrated when he opens our refrigerator because I have unsweetened almond milk, flax milk, coconut milk, and other varieties to use for smoothies.
I love the fact that there are so many options now but you do need to be “choosy” about your choices. Many of the nut milks contain carrageenan (a texturizing additive), other additives and “gums” (such as xantham gum, gellan gum, and soy or sunflower lecithin), Vitamin A Palmitate (which could be derived from ecosystem damaging palm plantations), and too much sugar.
As it is with any “processed food” or food you didn’t make yourself, fewer ingredients are better. The less is more concept.
Find that product in it’s most natural form possible. A few brands with minimal ingredients for nut milks include:
- Elmhurst Milked Almonds
- New Barn
- Three Trees
As for nut butters, check the ingredients just like you would the milks. If it has added/refined oils (palm, sunflower), natural and artificial ingredients, sugar, or anything beyond the nut itself, know what you’re buying.
We should always be aware of where our food comes from. A few brands I like include:
- Artisana Organics
- Organic NuttZo 2 Go
- Purely Pecans
Online markets such as Thrive and Amazon typically carry all of these. For a quick, convenient, and healthy on-the-go snack, buy the small packets of almond butter, especially when traveling. Buy them in small quantities so that the oils do not go rancid and store in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh.
Try adding a handful or two of nuts into your daily eating routine and you could be closer to being a “health nut”!
Or, try using your favorite nut butter and seeds to make energy balls for a quick breakfast, on-the-go snack, or the perfect pre-workout/post-workout snack.
Recipe for Nut Butter Energy Bites
- 1 ½ cups organic old fashioned (or steel cut oats) **
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut
- ½ cup ground flaxseed
- ¼ cup mini chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life dairy free dark chocolate chips)
- ½ cup smooth peanut butter (I substitute almond butter)
- ⅓ cup honey (local honey is best or raw)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract or almond
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ⅔ cup organic coconut oil (melted)
- ⅔ cup organic cacao powder
- Option: Add dried fruits and chopped nuts as well for a trail mix type ball.
** If you don’t want the large pieces of oats or the crunch, grind in blender/food processor first.
You could also add collagen protein powder or your favorite protein powder to the mix but flavored powders can alter the flavor of the energy balls.
- Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and combine. Sometimes it’s best to just get your hands dirty and mix it that way.
- Scoop the mixture and form balls (I like golf ball size the best)
- Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet or plate and chill in the fridge until set.
- Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or freeze and pull out how many you need from time to time.
A note on Peanuts: It’s worth mentioning the peanut allergy prevalence we are confronted with today as well. There could be a correlation between the legumes causing leaky gut and the allergic response people experience, which may present differently per individual.