Goin’ Crazy in the Nut House.

Contributed by Coach Karen

Nuts — without question — are the “go to” snack or recipe ingredient for most participants in the EAD / CFAH 30 Day Paleo Challenge. Munch walnuts to quell a craving. Grind almonds for pizza crust or Paleo treats. Sprinkle cashews on stir fry. Toss macadamia nuts in a smoothie. Eating Paleo for many turns the kitchen into a veritable nut house. That makes Week #3 of the 30 Day Paleo Challenge the perfect time to question the craziness and consider cracking the attraction that’s making you go nuts.

It may be time to evaluate nut consumption if the past two weeks include the change "Here a nut, there a nut, everywhere a nut, nut nut."

It may be time to evaluate nut consumption if the past two weeks include the chant “Here a nut, there a nut, everywhere a nut, nut nut.”

Nuts are nutritious, satisfying and convenient little gems. They’re fiber-rich, and a great source of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol, while increasing high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol. But they’re calorie-dense, and high in lectins[1], phytates[2] and other enzyme inhibitors[3]. They can quickly push more nutritious foods off your plate, and, of most interest, are rich in polyunsaturated fat and pro-inflammatory[4] Omega-6 fatty acids.

Nut or Butt? Calories in nuts come primarily from fat, and those calories tally quickly as you snack ‘em by the handful, or incorporate them in breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes. Consuming too many nuts could negatively impact body composition changes. Robb Wolf, EAD / CFAH 30 Paleo Challenge mentor-at-large and Paleo expert, targets over-zealous nut consumption as a key barrier to fat loss.

Empty Satisfaction? The grab-and-go nature of nuts is dangerous when you’re tired, overwhelmed or under-supplied. A bag of nuts or jar of nut butter—plus a comfy couch and favorite TV show—offer an attractive alternative to shopping and preparing a nutritious meal. Nuts also drive satiety, or that satisfied feeling of fullness, making it easier to leave the kale and other nutrient-dense offerings behind.

Skew You. Tipping the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is likely the most adverse impact of habitually eating nuts. Nuts tend to tilt to pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids, so eating too many drive you away from the desired 4:1-5:1 ratio of Omega-6s:Omega-3s.

Seek Equilibrium. Building a Paleo Plate is a great start to establishing Omega-6:Omega-3 equilibrium. But it takes work. According to holistic living expert Chris Kresser, the average American consumes 9 percent of total calories from pro-inflammatory Omega-6 foods. With no change in Omega-6 consumption, that equates to eating 11 ounces of wild-caught salmon every day to just keep pace.

Kresser says a more realistic approach to creating Omega Equilibrium is to increase consumption of anti-inflammatory Omega-3s—say three 4-ounce servings[5] of wild caught salmon weekly—and decrease Omega-6 intake to approximately 3 percent of total calories by eliminating processed and packaged foods, and conventionally-raised poultry and pork; limiting restaurant meals; and mindfully munching nuts … essentially following the EAD / CFAH 30 Day Paleo Challenge. Other options to increase Omega-3 include enjoying Grassfed Beef and Omega-3 eggs.

Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple fame has a simple approach. “What drew our ancestors to nuts – the caloric density and the fat content – is what makes them ‘dangerous’ to modern man. It makes sense that we easily snack on them all day, because our ancestors probably gorged themselves on nuts when they were available. We should eat them, too, but it’s important to stick to reasonable, evolutionarily realistic amounts.”

If nuts have been more like a healthy condiment in your meal and snack planning during the first two weeks of the EAD / CFAH 30 Paleo Challenge, keep up the great work; bonus points if you pick nuts high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fats like Macadamias, Cashews and Hazelnuts. However, if nuts have been more like the main course, it is time to make an adjustment.

Food for Thought. Would you go batty if you gave up nuts for one week? Comment.

[1] Lectins are carb-binding proteins that can stick to the lining of the small intestine and trigger a host of problems. Foods high in lectins are at the top of the “Avoid” or “Moderation” lists during the 30 Day Paleo Challenge – grains, legumes, soy, dairy, related oils, nuts and members of the nightshade family.

[2] Phytates are antioxidant compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds that can bind to, and slow absorption of, certain dietary minerals. You can soak nuts overnight in water with sea salt to leech the phytates. Drain the water, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and dehydrated for 8 hours in a 140-degree oven; cool and refrigerate.

[3] Enzyme inhibitors bind to enzymes and decrease their activity, potentially disrupting digestion and absorption.

[4] The typical American ratio of Omega-6-Omega-3 fatty acids 10:1-20:1, a contributing factor in increased rates of Cardiovascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Asthma, Cancer, and more (see The Inflammation Cycle).

[5] Based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

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