When you're feeling peckish, a packet of chips or a few chocolate biscuits is always a tempting option for a snack. But as delicious as they are, they're not exactly the best options if you're trying to improve your health or lose weight. So instead of reaching for those convenience foods, why not try a handful of nuts?
This delicious and nutritious option has some great health benefits, but us Aussies just aren't eating enough of them. In fact, we tend to eat around 6g a day when we should be aiming for five times that amount.
Many people think that nuts lead to weight gain, but dietitian Belinda Neville chatted exclusively to Now To Love to bust that myth and tell us just how healthy nuts really are.
Are nuts really healthy?
The short answer to this is yes.
Nuts are a great source of protein as well as fibre and good fats which help you feel fuller for longer, plus a whole host of other vitamins and minerals.
Belinda says, "We need to start thinking about nuts like fruit and veg and try to eat a serve daily.
"We should aim for a handful (30g) a day, but the reality is most Australian eat on average just 6g a day. This means we are missing out on the many health benefits."
Eating nuts is also great for pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, in fact, your baby is less likely to develop a nut allergy if you continue to eat them during this time.
READ MORE: The best foods to eat while breastfeeding.
Which nuts are best?
As all nuts are packed with nutrients, you can't really go wrong when it comes to this healthy snack. Belinda says it's about getting your daily intake up and getting that 30g rather than the variety you choose.
"My tip is to try and mix it up as each nut variety does contain different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, so choosing a mix will help to ensure you are getting a wide range of nutrients."
However, different nuts can offer different nutritional benefits. Just two Brazil nuts a day, for example, gives you 100 per cent of your recommended daily intake for the essential mineral selenium.
So if you're ever wondering what 30g looks like exactly, Belinda has a handy guide to help you out:
• 20 almonds
• 10 Brazil nuts
• 15 cashews
• 4 chestnuts
• 20 hazelnuts
• 15 macadamias
• 15 pecans
• 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
• 30 pistachio kernels
• 10 walnut halves
• a handful of mixed nuts
And if you're a lover of peanut butter or almond butter, you're in luck too, though Belinda says to go for the 100 per cent nut butters without added sugar and salt.
"Nut butters are just as healthy as whole nuts, and are a great way to add nuts to your diet. They're also ideal for babies, or for those who may have difficulties eating whole nuts."
Do nuts make you fat?
This is a common myth that pops up and Belinda thinks it's one of the main reasons why people don't eat enough nuts.
"Science shows nut eaters actually weigh less!" she says.
"The myth came about because nuts are a rich source of healthy unsaturated fats – mono- and polyunsaturated fats, but these fats are actually good for managing your weight. They switch on satiety hormones in your gut, helping you to feel more full."
On top of that, their high protein and fibre content helps to control your appetite and eating them can boost your metabolism by five to 10 per cent. and crunching on them sends signals to your brain- the more you crunch, the less you end up eating.
If you are trying to lose weight though, make sure you don't overindulge by eating a whole jar of nut butter in one sitting.
"We absorb more of the fat from nut butters, compared to whole nuts," says Belinda.
What are activated nuts and are they better for you?
If you've wondered what those "activated nuts" down the health food aisle are, these are just nuts that are soaked in water, usually overnight, to help make the nutrients more digestible. However, there is no evidence to show if activating nuts has any effect on them, nutritionally speaking.
Soaking nuts is meant to reduce phytates, which are plant seed compounds that bind minerals together and makes it harder for the body to absorb the minerals e.g. iron, calcium and zinc.
So hypothetically, we should be able to absorb these minerals better by eating activated nuts. However, no research has been done to show what effect, if any, soaking has on nuts.
"We also should not give phytates a bad rap. They actually have their own long list of health benefits. Phytates have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, appear to have anti-cancerous properties, and may help carbohydrate metabolism and glucose control. They also improve bone mineral loss and may even reduce kidney stones," says Belinda.
Apart from snacking on them, how else can I eat more nuts?
If you don't feel like crunching on nuts on their own, you can always add them into your diet in other ways. In fact, Belinda has some top tips.
"From topping off salads, blending them into smoothies or even mixing them into bliss ball, muffin, cake and savoury recipes – the opportunities really are endless," she says.
So what are you waiting for, get cooking and get nutty!