Going nuts

Recent research has shown that nuts are very good for you. According to a paper* in the International Journal of Epidemiology last year, men and women who eat at least 10g of nuts each day have reduced risks of death from respiratory disease, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. And it seems to apply to all nuts, including peanuts**. So, it looks like there are good reasons for us all to consider including nuts in our diet.

Plus, supporting the production of Brazil nuts, for example, can have a beneficial effect on South American forests. Brazil nuts, unlike timber, are harvested without destroying the trees, so a thriving Brazil nut industry leads to forest preservation. For example the Amazon Conservation Association describe the Programa Conservando Castañales (Brazil Nut Conservation Programme) as follows:

Brazil nuts have a significant local and international market and are a natural link to conservation, since the trees only produce in a healthy rainforest ecosystem. Endemic to the Amazon basin, these towering canopy trees grow to 165 feet and have a lifespan of several hundred years. In Peru, areas of forest with dense stands of Brazil nut trees are known as castañales. These areas are given as concessions to local Brazil nut harvesters, called castañeros, who manage them under contracts with the Peruvian forest service. Brazil nut concessions are privately managed conservation areas that allow harvesters and their families to make an income from intact forest. Brazil nut harvesters sell the nuts to local shelling factories, which pack and export the product overseas. This extractive activity provides more than half the yearly income for thousands of families in the Amazon and protects several million acres of forest from deforestation.


“Cashew apples” by Abhishek Jacob – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cashew_apples.jpg#/media/File:Cashew_apples.jpg

Sadly, not all nuts are so good for the producers. Cashew nuts (one of my personal favourites) are produced on the end of a very strange fruit, the flesh of which is caustic (it contains anacardic acid). Cashew processing appears to be associated with various problems for the workers, including physical damage to workers’ hands as a result of them not being protected from the acid, eye problems, workers having to crouch on the ground to break open the nuts and consequent back and joint pain, and urinary and reproductive health issues (Traidcraft Report: Cashing in on Cashews). However, cashew nut production is an important economic activity in India:

Hari Krishnan Nair, chairman of the Cashew Export Promotion Council of India, who also runs his own business processing and exporting the nut, said: “We have approximately 1 million people engaged directly in the processing of cashews, and another 200,000-odd people who are engaged in the growing of cashews in the country. (The Guardian November 2013)

There can also be negative environmental issues associated with nut production. Almond orchards in Australia, for example, are commonly managed to have completely bare soils. This has implications for pollinators as well as biodiversity and soil conservation. Manu Saunders over at Ecology is Not a Dirty Word wrote a really interesting piece on this a couple of years ago and her photograph of a typical Australian almond orchard is quite shocking.

So, whilst we consider our own health, it’s also good to think about the health of our fellow human beings and of the planet. With this in mind, I try to buy organic and fair-traded nuts. Plus, I have planted two cob nuts in my garden and I am hoping that eventually I will be growing at least some of my own. Like so many other of our purchases, it’s always good to look a little deeper at their sources.


* You can read the full paper here or a rather more accessible summary here

** Which aren’t nuts at all, but a sort of underground pea (yes, really).

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  1. Reblogged this on Cambridge Aromatherapy and Massage and commented:
    We have also planted several varieties of Cob nut to feed the squirrels!

  2. We have also planted some varieties of Cob nut – Kentish Cob, Purple Filbert and Pearson’s Prolific.

  3. When I lived in London, I had a large old walnut tree in the back garden. Despite a large crop every year, I never got a single nut. Every squirrel for miles around would descend on the tree and sit there brazenly on the branches eating the nuts straight out of the green fruit. The dropped shells were hard and sharp, making it impossible to walk there barefoot. These days, I make sure I get my fair share of our local product, macadamias – so delicious!

    • I was interested to read that almond production has overtaken macadamia production in Australia… I guess almonds are easier to sell although for the life of me I can’t understand why!

      • Macadamias are hard to process – literally! It tends to keep the price up a bit. They are also used for macadamia oil, which is delicious in dressings and baking and is getting more and more popular. Also, there is an ever-increasing market for ground almonds/almond meal due to the fashion for paleo diets (and, I may add, gluten free diets!). But there are still plenty of maccas being grown here. I’m not going short any time soon!

  4. I love cashews, but will never think the same way about them since reading your post. I simply had no idea.

    Thanks for sharing the links, too.

    I love all nuts and as a vegetarian, rely on them for my protein needs along with beans, tofu and legumes.

    • It’s so easy to take our purchases for granted… and to think that we are making an ethical choice by buying/eating one thing rather than another. Being well-informed is at least a start!

      • That it is. I’ve tried to stay aware, but it seems to be ever-changing. The same is true for the fashion industry. 40% of clothes were once made in the US. Now that number is down to 5%. Buying locally is nearly impossible yet who wants to support the abysmal factory conditions elsewhere. I think one of the best things about the internet is that people can no longer remain ignorant of the world around them. What they do with that information is another story.

        • So true – the opportunity to access information means that we can all make informed decisions. Sadly there are so many people out there who simply don’t care ad choose to remain ignorant.

          • It is sad, isn’t it? This is what has me fuming lately about the crazy gun lobby in this country. They can’t see the other (horrible) side of things, only their own point. And so much of that is based on fear and not reasonable thinking. One need only look at the statistics on a chart to see what a deadly mess they leave strewn about the country. If it were up to me, all guns would be rounded up and melted into goo. Then I would erect a monument for peace.

  5. Nuts are just plain wrong – added to chocolate, doubly so. 🙂

  6. This is very interesting. As a vegetarian moving slowly to vegan I find my nut allergy VERY frustrating!

    • I think there are real issues with sourcing ethical protein as a vegetarian (or indeed meat-eater) and it’s something that many people just ignore. It’s very easy to assume that all plant products are ethically sound, but sadly this is far from the case and many of them are produced far away in countries where worker care is very low on the list of priorities. Personally I’m a big fan of home-produced eggs… you know your chickens are happy, you know what they eat and they serve so many other purposes in the garden.

      • No I completely agree. I still eat eggs and mostly buy locally grown food, and try not to buy anything grown abroad. I also eat in season. So I don’t buy strawberries in January! I don’t particularly want to be vegan but I’m now lactose intolerant… I’d like chickens but apparently our deeds say we can’t.

        • I too am lactose intolerant, but still eat some dairy. Lactose is water-soluble, so there is relatively little in butter and hard cheese. Live yoghurt is also ok because the lacto-bacillus digest the lactose. Plus, I take lactase enzyme tablets if I really want to eat dairy and treat milk/cream with liquid lactase if I want to use that.
          Having said all this, I drink my tea and coffee black and I absolutely can’t eat ice-cream, but I do seem to have reached a sensible balance in my diet.

  7. Ann Pole

     /  January 10, 2016

    Love the bit about nuts contaminating chocolate and totally agree! I like pine nuts (but too expensive) and will eat some cashews, but all other nuts make me want to throw up.


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