The Telegraph
| Sunday, November 9, 2014 |

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A natural high

A mix of nuts and exotic seeds like alfalfa, chia and sabja are among the hot new health foods recommended by nutritionists, says Lubna Salim

Who would've thought that Prime Minister Morarji Desai had it so right? The extraordinarily healthy former prime minister famously dined mainly on nuts and was watched with awe by most Indians. Now, we know for sure that he was on the right track — nuts of all kinds are filled with vitamins and minerals and most of us don't have enough of them.

  • Alfalfa, basil and chia are among the relatively new entrants on the seeds bandwagon says Hena Nafis; Pic: Rashbehari Das

The believers are already munching on everything from pumpkin to sunflower to flax seeds. If you want to throw in a bit of variety, try chia seeds, which not only contain super-nutrients but also make you feel full so you control those hunger pangs. On the other hand, you can try other less well-known seeds like alfalfa and sabja (sweet basil), which are fast finding favour with nutritionists.

"These nuts and seeds are loaded with excellent sources of monounsaturated-fatty acids (MUFA), namely oleic and palmitoleic acids, which help lower LDL or 'bad cholesterol' and increase HDL or 'good cholesterol'," says wellness consultant Shikha Sharma.

Seed safari

  • A quarter cup of walnuts provides sufficient Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients says Shikha Sharma

Sunflower, flax, pumpkin and sesame seeds are the most commonly recommended by nutritionists today. Flax seeds have become popular, especially with vegetarians, because they are the richest natural plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids. They're good for women suffering from calcium loss during menopause. "Add it to your diet by having a tablespoon or two of powdered flax seeds with water, cereal, milk or curd," says nutrition and weight management expert Ishi Khosla.

Sunflower seeds, on the other hand, are rich in Vitamin B-Complex, Vitamin E, magnesium, calcium and proteins. Sprinkle toasted sunflower seeds over a stir fry and enhance its flavour. Sunflower seeds are a rich source of zinc and so, beneficial for women with polycystic ovaries. Sesame seeds too are a high in protein, Vitamin E and calcium. "They help combat osteoporosis and aid in healing fractured bones," says Hena Nafis, consultant nutritionist and founder of Nutrience — a nutrition and lifestyle clinic. She says you can sprinkle them on vegetables or have dates coated with sesame seeds.

Then, there are the new entrants in the seed safari like alfalfa, chia and sabja or sweet basil seeds. The name alfalfa is derived from the Arabic word meaning 'father of all foods'. "These are being recommended for better cardiovascular health," says Nafis.

Chia seeds are an expensive South American offering, which are rich in Omega-3 and so beneficial for cardiovascular and metabolic problems. They can be had with a bowl of cereal or yoghurt. Sabja or sweet basil seeds are popular appetite suppressants. "A tablespoon of sabja seeds had with a glass of water fills you up and eases digestion," says Nafis.

Remember, when you're snacking on them, seeds should be lightly roasted or gently heated to destroy unwanted allergens, contaminants or toxins. "Sprouting seeds makes them richer in vitamins B and C, amino acids and enzymes," says Khosla.

Going nuts

  • Ishi Khosla is giving nuts a healthy spin by coating them with honey or gur;Pic: Jagan Negi

Nuts are also reckoned to be among the healthiest natural foods. They lower cholesterol levels and so help in protecting from heart diseases besides aiding weight reduction. "Nuts can be useful in preventing cancer, osteoporosis, obesity and asthma. Besides, they promote skin and hair health, and improve vision and mental alertness," says Khosla.

Nutritionists commonly recommend walnuts, almonds and peanuts. Walnuts have cancer-fighting properties. They contain the amino acid -arginine, which benefits people with heart ailments or with increased risk from heart diseases. They're good for the brain and contain enzymes that help deal with weight issues. "A quarter cup of walnuts provides more than 100 per cent of the daily recommended value of plant-based Omega-3 fats along with high amounts of copper, manganese, molybdenum and biotin," says Sharma.

Almonds, however, are a good source of Vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high-quality protein. Almonds are an excellent source of MUFA and they also improve vision," says Nafis.

Don't ignore the humble peanut either. "Peanuts help promote fertility, aid in blood sugar regulation, prevent gallstones and boost memory as they contain Vitamin B3," says Sharma.

Now, if you are bored of eating plain or roasted nuts, you can try some honey- or gur-coated almonds or snack on gur-coated sesame or peanut balls. They are all available from Ishi Khosla's Whole Foods range.

Remember one thing though: while nuts and seeds are a healthy substitute as snacks, quantity is a key. "Since they have a high concentration of oil, eating too many nuts and seeds can lead to weight gain," warns Nafis.

So, the rule is that you can go nuts — but only up to a limit.