The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 3, 2002
Health Bites

Go for nuts but with caution
Sukhdeep Kaur

Go slow on the calorie-rich dry fruits this festive season
Go slow on the calorie-rich dry fruits this festive season

A NUT is a fruit and the edible seed or kernel is enclosed in a hard shell. The common nuts consumed in the tropics are coconut, groundnut, cashew nut, walnut, almonds & pistachios. They are rich in proteins, fats, carbohydrate, minerals and factors of the Vitamin B complex (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin) and iron.

Nuts approach an ideal food by supplying high calories in a palatable form. The large proportion of fat which they contain is surrounded by a compact cellulose matrix and requires thorough mastication for better digestion.


Coconut consists of an outer husk, a middle hard shell, an inner sweet kernel and coconut water. The kernel is the white and firm edible portion and is consumed as such, is desiccated as copra or extracted as oil. A mature coconut may yield upto 225 gm of kernel supplying about 1000 Kcal. Coconuts provide mere calories per acre of land then any other food.


Groundnut (peanut)

Groundnut is relatively inexpensive and is therefore used extensively in the tropics. It has a high content of proteins, fats, carbohydrate and calories. It has a high content of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and calories, the preponderant protein of groundnut is deficient in methionine. The peanut is fruit of the somewhat unusual peanut plant. Its pods develop underground, which is why peanuts are also called groundnuts. It is a common belief that the peanut originated in Africa, but evidence suggests that South America — Bolivia — was probably its first home. From there, through colonisation; the use of peanuts spread throughout colonisation, the use of peanuts spread throughout the world. Soon, they came to be valued for their oil.

But over the years, changes in eating habits, diets and fears about oil and fat have caused people look as once at peanuts. In fact, there is a wealth of nutrition in just that small handful of hard — to — resist nuts.

Peanuts contain reservatrol which may reduce the risk of heart disease. A study conducted in United States showed that diets high in good monosaturated fat (MUFA) — obtained from foods like peanuts, peanut oil and olive oil — were superior to low — fat diets for heart health. The presence of peanuts, peanut oil and peanut butter in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease by 21 per cent.

The fatty acid percentage weight composition of groundnut oil is saturated 20, monosaturated 50 and unsaturated 30. One of the main advantages of using peanut oil is its high level of MUFA and low level of linolenic acid. Too much of latter oxidises the soil and can produce undesirable flavours in it. Pure peanut oil contains less than 0.1 of linolenic acid while some of other Vegetable oils contain about 7% linolenic acid has been indicated as a cause for tumours.

The temperature at which an oil begins to smoke is one of the most reliable indicators of its quality for deep frying. The higher the smoke point, the better it is, as firstly, you can fry foods without foiling the oil and secondly you can reuse the oil a few times. The lower the smoke point, the sooner it has to be discarded. Peanut oil has a very high smoke point and allows food cook faster. This in turn preserves the flavour and prevents excess absorption of oil.

Peanut oil is used in a variety of cooking methods; from deep frying to sauteing. It is easy to measure and pour. Always store oil in a cool place and always seal the container tightly as exposure to air causes oil to lose its quality.

Clinical uses

Groundnut is palatable and cheap. Served with half to one cup of milk or a table spoon of milk powder it can be an excellent source of food for protein — deficient children, specially in schools and orphanages. When mixed with jaggery it makes a delicious sweet known as chikki. Groundnut is rich in Nicotinic acid 203 mg/100 gm and is a good supplement to maize diet to prevent pellagra. The quantity of groundnut consumed should be increased gradually otherwise flatulence and intestinal colic may be produced.

Cashewnut and others

These nuts have a high calorific value but they are expensive and are consumed only by the rich regularly. Almonds enhances the memory and IQ level as per the ancient beliefs. For a sharper mind eat almonds as they contain the phenylaialinine — as amino acid. Taking vitamin supplements speed up mental processing, according to research by Wendij Snowden of Reading University’s Department of Psychology. This could explain why they have been found to boost memory.

Dry fruit

The commonly consumed dried fruits, dates, figs, currants, raisins and apricots are expensive. Dried fruits are a good source of Calcium and iron but unlike fresh fruits, the Vitamin C content is poor.


These are the fruit of the date palm and the staple diet of the Arabs. In the tropics dates are comparatively cheap amongst the dried fruits. Dates kept exposed to flies and dust may become a source of infection like typhoid, dysentery and cholera. Dried dates are rich sources of iron 7.3 mg/100 gm.

Use for patients

Dried fruits like dates, figs and raisins are advised for lean constipated patients because of their laxative effect. As they are rich in calories they should be avoided by the obese. A study by the University of Portsmouth found that iron deficiency can cause hair loss. Women suffering from hair loss were found to be deficient in iron but they stopped losing hair after taking an iron supplement plus the aminoacid lysine, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12.

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