Nuts are considered an important part of the vegetarian diet, as they supply fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They contain beneficial phytochemicals. Some contain many different forms of plant sterols, which are believed to help moderate blood cholesterol. Some of the volatile oils in nuts contain antioxidants that help counter free radical damage. Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans contain no cholesterol. Most of the calories in nuts come from fat, but mainly unsaturated fat, and fat performs some essential functions in the body.
According to ayurveda, nuts of all kinds in moderation, nut milks and nut butters, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds are excellent for pacifying Vata. Blanched and peeled almonds in moderation, and coconuts, are good for Pitta, as are sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Nuts increase Kapha, but sunflower and pumpkin seeds in moderation are acceptable in a Kapha diet.
Make sure the nuts you buy are fresh and in season, because rancid oils from nuts can actually increase free radicals and are considered toxic. Nuts can be a little heavy to digest, so it is important to learn how to prepare them so that the body can use them effectively. If you are on a light diet to reduce ama, then it is best to avoid nuts. Eating a handful of nuts along with some raisins helps to digest the nuts and is a popular ayurvedic snack — great for children after school or on a hiking trip or long car ride.
Nuts have been a food staple for thousands of years in different parts of the world. Nuts can be ground into flours, nut milks, nut butters, and pastes such as almond paste or the popular dessert marzipan. There are a variety of ways to cook with nuts in main dishes, snacks, or desserts. The nutritional oils from almond, cashew, and coconut also make beneficial massage oils, which your skin literally eats. The personal skin care line from Maharishi Ayurveda includes products that contain some of these precious oils as ingredients.
Ayurveda claims that almonds are sattvic nuts that help to produce ojas, the finest by-product of digestion. Almonds are energizing, and balancing for the mind. The almond tree belongs to the same family of plants as the rose, the plum, and the peach. The ayurvedic way to eat almonds is first to blanch the shelled nuts and then soak them overnight. Removing the skins removes any Pitta-aggravating qualities and the soaking helps to make them lighter and easier to digest. About ten almonds a day is the general recommendation, but if you have a Kapha imbalance, then eat about five almonds per day at the most. If you are trying to lose weight, it is best to avoid nuts. Almond milk is considered extremely nourishing. Almonds can also be consumed in the form of a nut butter, available in health food stores. Almond butter spread on rice cakes or wheat crackers makes a great late afternoon snack or provides an energy boost before sports.
Cashew nuts and pistachio nuts are also used in ayurvedic cooking. They add both delicious taste and needed protein to the vegetarian diet.
Peanuts are not recommended in ayurveda. Peanuts are not really nuts; they are legumes. Peanuts are difficult to digest and can make one feel sluggish and lethargic in body and mind. Ayurvedically, it is better to use either cashew or almond butter for sandwiches.
Walnuts are astringent and are fine for people trying to balance Kapha to eat in moderation. One walnut a day is good for growing children, as it is considered to have medhya qualities — nourishing for the brain. Walnuts are considered natural "stress-busters."
Pine nuts can be combined with fresh basil to make flavorful pesto sauce. Pesto over pasta can make a hearty delicious meal.
Other nuts, including pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts are good for pacifying Vata.
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