By Charlotte Hawkins, Volunteer Contributor
One of the great things that True Food sells is a large array of unshelled loose nuts, including brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews (salted and unsalted), almonds (ground, blanched and unblanched). The turnover is high so the nuts are fresh, and they offer excellent value for money. You can buy as many or as few as you need, and take them home in paper rather than plastic bags or in your own containers, cutting down on unnecessary packaging.
Not everyone can afford to buy everything organic, but nuts are one food where buying organic should be a priority. Non-organic tree nuts are repeatedly sprayed with pesticides, as they are nearly always grown in large monocultures where disease and insect infestations are rife. Most pesticides are lipophilic, meaning that they concentrate in foods rich in fat rather than liquid, so non-organic nuts are very high in pesticide residues which penetrates down into the kernel which we eat as well as covering the shell. Furthermore, conventional nut farming when done on a large scale depletes local water resources. Both this and the pesticide run-off into the local water supply has hugely detrimental effects on the local ecology.
Organic nuts are an environmentally sound choice. Pesticides are not used, and farms are smaller which protects local resources. As they have a relatively long shelf-life, they are sea or land rather than air freighted, and take up little space in transport vehicles, all of which means that their carbon footprint is very low.
Despite the environmental and health costs of pesticide-sprayed nuts, the heavy use of pesticides in non-organic nut farming does not yield a prolifically abundant crop. Yields are only fractionally higher than with organic nut farming. Consequently the production cost of organic nuts is often equal to or only fractionally more than non-organic nuts. This benefit is passed down to shoppers at True Food when nuts are bought loose but not usually when bought pre-packaged at a supermarket, where organic nuts are often sold at a disproportionate premium relative to their production cost.
Nuts are nutritional powerhouses and are hugely versatile from a culinary perspective, with abundant ways to include them in both savoury and sweet dishes. Some people find it difficult to include more nuts in their diet as they are unsure of how to use them, but if making hazelnut pralines or nut rissoles is more complex than you have the time for, chopped nuts can be added as a topping to porridge or yoghurt, and nut milk can be whizzed up in a matter of seconds (soak 100g of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or unsalted cashews overnight, drain, then add 500ml of fresh water and blitz with a blender. It will keep in the fridge for a few days, and tastes much better than store-bought versions!). Nuts are also the ultimate portable snack: they take up little space, are filling, nutritious, and can sit in a small container in your bag without getting damaged or needing refrigeration.
We are advised by everyone interested in food and health, from organisations as official as the British Dietetic Association and the World Health Organisation right down to internet nutrition bloggers, to include nuts as a regular part of our diet. They give us a huge nutritional bang for our buck and are rich in natural fats, protein, fibre and fat-soluble vitamins. The fat, protein and fibre together ensure that nuts are slowly broken down in the digestive tract, helping us to feel fuller for longer and balance our blood sugar. Although once feared due to their high fat content, it is now known that they contain an array of healthy, natural fats which have positive effects on our wellbeing, and do not raise LDL "bad" cholesterol, or the risk of heart disease. On the contrary, people who consume a diet rich in nuts generally have much lower rates of heart disease than average.
Despite what they have in common, nuts are surprisingly varied in their nutritional profile, and all have their strengths. The nutritional benefits of coconut have been much touted recently, but other common nuts offer a different nutritional profile and variety of uses. Almonds are probably the most versatile of nuts, being used in both sweet and savoury dishes, and almond butter is a popular alternative to peanut butter. They are rich in monounsaturated fat. Cashew nuts are mild-tasting and are great in stir-fries and for making vegan cashew "cream". They are also rich in monounsaturated fat and keep quite well. Walnuts are the richest nut in omega 3 fatty acids. As a result of this, they are prone to going rancid quickly, so they should be bought in small quantities and used up quickly. They are perfect for nut burgers and stuffings, with a distinctive taste that works well with many other foods, such as apples, beetroot, celery and cheese. Hazelnuts make excellent nut milk and work beautifully when combined with chocolate. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat. Brazil nuts are unusually high in the essential mineral selenium, with just one brazil nut providing your entire recommended daily intake of this mineral. They also taste great chopped up and sprinkled on fruit and yoghurt!
Although there are many more nuts not listed here such as pecans, pistachios and macadamias, the ones listed above can all be bought loose at True Food. Once bought, they should be stored in the fridge, as their high fat level means they will deteriorate more quickly at room temperature. So why not start making nuts a regular part of your diet?