There is a lot said in the media right now about the health value of nuts and seeds. Eating them is thought to do everything from help you lose weight to protect you from cancer. Now, it is true that nuts and seeds have a high density of critical vitamins and minerals. And though they are very high in fat, it is mostly healthy unsaturated fat that can actually help lower your cholesterol and fight heart disease.
However, there can definitely be too much of a good thing when it comes to seeds and nuts, and that level is very easily reached and exceeded. The effects of overindulging are uncomfortable in the short terms and downright dangerous in the long term. Let’s take a look at what happens. Some of these negate the very reason you choose to eat nuts and seeds in the first place!
A lot of studies suggest that eating nuts and seeds can help you lose weight. And it can – but only in very limited amounts and in conjunction with an entire diet and exercise regime. Nuts especially are very high in fat, and even though most of that fat is unsaturated, it still represents a high calorie load. If you eat too many nuts, you will surely gain rather than lose pounds.
If you do plan to add nuts or seeds to your weight loss plan, it is important to compensate by reducing the number of calories you eat elsewhere. This is not one of those healthy snacks you can forget that you ate without messing up your diet.
High Blood Pressure
In this case, it depends on how you eat your nuts and seeds. If they are raw and unsalted, they can conceivably help lower your blood pressure. However, most come salted to improve their taste. Many of us already eat too much salt, which generally works in partnership with potassium to regulate the fluid balance in our bodies. When that critical balance is off, it drives up blood pressure.
It is best to eat unsalted varieties, but if you are otherwise careful with your sodium consumption, you can cheat a little by choosing unsalted nuts or seeds and adding just a little bit of salt at home. It is sure to be less than the packaged product. Another great strategy is to flavor your seeds or nuts with herbs like Italian seasoning or chili powder to add flavor without sodium.
There are several elements in nuts and seeds that negatively affect your digestion. For starters, the fat content can lead to diarrhea. The high fiber may also contribute to this condition, or else create a lot of bloating and gas. However, nuts and seeds also have a defense mechanism that makes them very difficult to digest.
Certain compounds, notably phytic acid and tannin, make it possible for seeds and nuts to travel through an animal’s system relatively undigested. This gives the seeds the greatest chance of surviving to eventually sprout. It may also make the eater, in this case you, pretty uncomfortable.
Poor Nutrient Absorption
Phytic acid, beyond putting stress on your digestive system, can actually restrict your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients. Because humans cannot digest it, the phytic acid is left free to bind with minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc and prevent us from using them. Studies suggest that our bodies can absorb up to 20% more zinc and 60% more magnesium from food when phytic acid is not present.
Luckily, phytic acid does not leach these minerals out of our bodies, but it does “steal” them from meals in the process of digestion. It is also known to interfere with the very enzymes used to digest food. Examples include pepsin, which is used to break down proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which converts starch into fuel. Phytic acid can also inhibit use of the enzyme trypsin, which is necessary for digesting protein in the small intestine.
Eat Too Many Nuts and Seeds and This Can Happen
Unbalances Omega-6 & Omega-3 Levels
To be fair, most of us already have unbalanced levels of omega-3 to omega-6. The latter is found in cooking oils, processed foods, and yep, nuts and seeds. The former is also contained in nuts and seeds as well as many types of fish. Both omega-3s and omega-6s are classified as essential fatty acids, meaning that our bodies don’t produce them naturally and must be received from our diets.
To use them optimally, though, we need much less omega-6 than omega-3. Unfortunately, the typical American diet contains about 10x to 25x times the necessary amount of omega-6s. That can block our absorption of omega-3 as well as raise blood pressure, facilitate blood clots that can be fatal, and cause the body to retain water. Omega-3s are also known to be anti-inflammatory, which may prevent disease, while omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, which sets up an environment ideal for disease to flourish.
Conclusion: Portion Control is Key
The tricky thing about seeds and nuts is that they are very healthy in the proper dose, but quite the opposite if you overindulge. There are some pure junk foods that we can easily recommend avoiding all together, such as processed meals from the grocery store and fast food meals from any number of tempting establishments. But when it comes to nuts and seeds, there are benefits to be gained from eating the right amount.
So how much is too much? Dietary experts suggest no more than 1/3 cup per serving. Rather than simply eat from the bag or box, it is better to pre-portion your servings into smaller containers. Then, when you are done, you’re done. In some cases, the right amount of nuts or seeds won’t fill you up. If you’ve just got to have a bit more food, switch to a fruit or vegetable with a good deal of water and fiber. Those two elements can really help to make you feel full.