After all: nuts are good for you, right? Unfortunately, despite being very tasty, fried or toasted and salted nuts are not among the snacks that are suitable for a healthy diet and it is thus better to consume it in moderation.
Why is it better to prefer natural and unsalted nuts?
First of all, you must consider that food, including nuts, naturally contain a minimum amount of salt (or sodium chloride), and that both the taste and the biological properties of salt are mainly linked to sodium. Sodium chloride is made up of sodium (40%) and chlorine (60%); therefore, every gram of salt contains about 0.4 g of sodium and the quantity contained in food is enough to cover human daily need, which in normal conditions amounts to 0.1-0.6 g (100-600 mg) per day.
For many years, we have consumed food without adding further salt, and the one naturally contained in food almost never exceeded the quota of one gram of salt per day. But then, between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, we started seasoning our food. Throughout history, salt became increasingly important, first as main preservative for food and then in the food industry, as a flavour enhancer in both salty and sweet food (salt tends to attenuate the taste of sugar, making the flavour more balanced). Our palate quickly gets used to strong flavours: if you are used to tasty food, you will always look for tastier dishes, and this mechanism is widely exploited by the food industry.
Indeed, to recover the organoleptic characteristics that are generally lost during industrial processes, companies add salt, sugar, and fat to their products to make them tastier and more popular with consumers. Salt is found in all processed foods, from cured meats, to biscuits, to breakfast cereals. Bread is the main source of salt in the Italian diet.
The first observation of the negative effects of excess salt on human health was made by a Chinese doctor as early as 1700 BC. Excessive salt consumption leads to an increased risk of cardio-cerebrovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction and cerebral stroke, two consequences of hypertension; it also increases risk of some chronic-degenerative diseases such as stomach tumors, osteoporosis (due to an increase in urinary calcium excretion) and kidney diseases (kidney stones).
To avoid the onset of these illnesses, the WHO recommends a maximum consumption of 5 grams of salt per day (corresponding to 2 g of sodium).
According to the MinSal survey, conducted between 2009 and 2012, men consume on average 10.6 grams of salt per day, more than double the recommended 5 grams, and only 5% of men fall within the recommended parameters. As for women, 15% are below the recommended 5 grams, but the average consumption is 8.2 grams per day.
Following awareness campaigns, the commitment of companies that have joined the projects proposed by the Ministry of Health, and an increasing attention from consumers in recent years, the amount of salt consumed daily has fallen by 12% compared to the values recorded in the period 2008-2011. However, they still remains too high (data from 2012-2014 the High Institute of Health from the project “Less salt, better health”).
It is therefore clear that salted nuts do nothing but provide our body with a very high and absolutely unnecessary quantity of salt. By comparing natural peanuts with roasted and salted ones typical of aperitifs, the former contain 18 mg of sodium while the latter go up to 813 mg.
In addition to salting, roasting also affects the nutritional properties of nuts. Indeed, the process makes the nut more crumbly and increases the permeability of membranes to enzymes, facilitating fat assimilation.
In conclusion, a regular and balanced consumption of nuts – 28-30 g per day – as a snack or at the end of a meal, has a favorable metabolic profile:
- They mainly provide mono and polyunsaturated fats, omega-6 and omega-3, the consumption of which promotes the normalization of blood cholesterol levels.
- Some types of nuts provide good quantities of phytosterols, which also contribute to the regulation of cholesterolemia (concentration of cholesterol in the plasma).
- They are a source of vitamins (group B and E in particular) and minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium, which play a positive role in maintaining a physiological state of good health.
- They are a source of antioxidant substances.
But in order to take full advantage of their beneficial properties, it is necessary to add nuts in the context of a healthy diet, pay attention to the quantity (to avoid exceeding calorie intake) and, above all, to select natural nuts and not roasted or salted ones, to avoid exceeding sodium consumption and minimizing their beneficial effects.