Nut Wars, Part 2
- Created on Saturday, 15 September 2012 10:19
I have been following some of the debate on the veggie forum about nuts. I have been encouraged to participate, but instead, I am going to make some comments here.
There has been a lot of positive research on nuts, showing that they protect against heart disease and even encourage leanness, although that seems paradoxical to many, especially to fat-o-phobes. They want to reject the research because, not infrequently, it has been paid for by the consortium of nut growers. The implication is that that research must be rigged.
However, the fact is that conducting medical research is expensive, and it has to be paid for by somebody. If nut growers are not supposed to pay for research on nuts, then who is? The drug companies? The US taxpayers? As long as the research is conducted independently, and the nut growers provide only money, then I don't see a problem with it. The mistake being made is assuming that nut growers have undue power over medical research institutions the way drug companies do. They do not. Drug companies control the curriculum at medical schools, the output and editorial policies of medical journals, including the leading ones, and they control the dictates of the leading medical boards and institutions. They indeed have an undue influence over medical research. But nut growers have no such power. I appreciate the fact that nut growers believe in their product enough to sponsor scientific research about it.
Another issue I have seen raised as an objection to nuts is that they are "acid-forming" and may lead to weak bones. One study was cited in which nuts were added to a conventional diet, and it was found that they did increase the acid load, resulting in increased chemical markers for acidity. However, the kind of person who eats nuts regularly as part of a healthy diet is not eating a conventional diet. Anyone who is eating nuts every day is probably also eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are highly alkaline. In fact, I have found that those who eat a plant-based diet based on fruits, vegetables, and nuts, tend to have no problems with acidity. In fact, they tend to be alkaline, and the urine ph will often be very alkaline, such as 8. In Medicine, the official dogma is that average urine ph is acid, around 6. But that is no doubt due to people eating conventional diets. When people eat high fruit and vegetable diets and avoid or minimize meat and animal products, the urine is usually alkaline, even as high as 8. That's a huge difference. And even when nuts are included, the urine is still alkaline. In fact, I'm inclined to think that the acid-forming effect of the nuts is a good thing; it helps prevent excess alkalinity. I believe that people can get overly alkaline from diet, which can lead to Candida and other yeast problems, and I believe it directly weakens the immune system. As long as you are eating fresh fruits, green salads, and steamed vegetables every day, the "acidity" of nuts is not a problem and may even be a blessing.
But, let's continue the reasoning on this, and we'll use me as an example. I've been eating nuts every day for the last 40 years, so if anyone should have been harmed from it, it's me. Have my bones been damaged from eating nuts? Well, let's consider the evidence. I am 61 years old, and so far, I haven't lost any height. Well, if I have it's a tiny fraction of an inch. I meet people in their 40s who have lost height, so I think I'm doing very well that way. I am also doing well with my teeth. The density looks good in my dental x-rays, and the main probem I have is with wear from grinding, but that's a separate issue. My teeth are definitely holding up, and remember that teeth are just specialized bones. I have not done a bone density test, but I have no worries about it whatsoever. I am sure that my bones are fine.
Of course, the biggest complaint that the other side has against nuts is that they are high in fat. But, the idea that fat is bad is just a mindset; it's a perspsective, and a very biased one. And it is not a bias that anyone was born with. The natural instinct of humans is to relish fats, not avoid them. The oldest known human food is the walnut. Walnuts, just like the ones we have today, have been around for over 1 million years. They are native to western Asia, and it's known that humans (that is, humanoids, pre-homo-sapiens) ate walnuts. We know that because the shells fossilized, and have been found in "human" settlements and encampments. So, it turns out that we have been eating nuts not only throughout all of human history but even during pre-human history. Unless there was caveman named Mcdougalla who was going around telling everyone not to eat those nuts, chances are they ate them and enjoyed them.
You can't overestimate how deeply ingrained nuts have been in human history.
"Recently there was an archeological dig in Israel where researchers found evidence showing that nuts formed a major part of man’s diet 780,000 years ago. Seven varieties of nuts along with stone tools to crack open the nuts were found buried deep in a bog. The nuts were wild almond, prickly water lily, water chestnut and 2 varieties of both acorns and pistachios. The pistachios and water chestnut are similar to those found in the Far East and northern Europe today."
"Native Americans would place a nut in the depression of a stone, then hit it with another stone called the “hammer stone” The shelled nuts were eaten whole, and also were ground with mortar and pestle to make flour, or a nut butter. Nuts used were beech nuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts, and black walnuts. After removing the nutmeats, the shells were used to fuel their fires. Sometimes the nutmeats were cooked, and when the broth cooled, the congealed fat would be taken off and saved for later cooking."
There are hundreds of varieties of nut trees, and they grow spontaneously on all the continents of Earth except for Antartica, where there are no trees at all due to the cold. Of course, most are entirely unknown to most people. I remember when I lived in Oregon, the forests where I used to hike had scattered groves of butternut trees. The nuts were small, but the shells were soft, and I could easily extract the meats by hand. Butternuts are incredibly delicious- and I mean really creamy and exquisitely good. But the trees were never developed commercially probably because they are very slow-growing. Butternut trees used to grow all across the northern US and southern Canada, but there aren’t too many left. But all across Siberia, there are still gargantuan cedar trees which produce what are called cedar nuts. I have never had cedar nuts, but I am told that they are very delicious and very nutritious.
The macadamia nut is actually the only native Australian food that is under wide cultivation in the world today, although nearly half the world crop is still produced in Australia. I have bicycled through the immense macadamia orchards in New South Wales. It’s quite a sight. For tens of thousands of years, the Australian Aborigines made use of the macadamia nut as a dietary staple. And there are dozens of other Australian nuts used by the natives and considered part of “bush food” such as bunya nuts and candle nuts.
Any tree that produces an edible seed is considered, generally speaking, a nut, and the natural world is teeming with them. Most nuts are oil-bearing although a few store energy as starch, such as the chestnut.
So why did Mankind gravitate more towards eating grains? It was because of agriculture. Grains produce a crop in one season- a few short months. But, if you plant a pecan in the ground, as squirrels do all over Central Texas where I live, it could be 10 years before you have a significant crop, and there is plenty that can go wrong within that 10 years to prevent harvesting. That is why, up until quite recently, nut culture had more to do with horticulture (growing for the fun of it) than agriculture (subsistence). It takes a sophisticated economic model to make nut growing pay off commercially. But grains can be grown quickly and stored rather easily, and that is why on a subsistence basis, they prevailed over nuts.
But, are there really human societies that live on nothing but starches and fruits and vegetables? The answer is no. There are societies in which starches and produce weigh heavily in the diet, but not exclusively. Vitamin B12 deficiency alone would have stopped such a practice, and I mean by killing off the ones trying to do it. I eat some grains, and I am not opposed to them. But, I value nuts much more highly. If I were forced to give up one or the other, I would ditch the grains and hold on to my nuts (no pun intended).