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