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Nuts and Seeds: Truly Gut and Skin Friendly?

Updated: May 2

Re-evaluating Nuts and Seeds:


Nuts and seeds, along with their products like nut milk and seed oils, have been riding a wave of popularity in the wellness community, but are they truly as beneficial for our health as they're often made out to be? Or are the products creating inflammation in your body that affects not only your gut health but your skin? Let’s look a bit deeper and explore the not-so-great effects they might have on our metabolism and digestion.


Nuts and seeds pouring out of jars in a semi circle

The Hibernation Connection: A Metabolic Slowdown


As I’m sure you know, animals gearing up for hibernation eat tons of nuts and seeds in preparation for winter, triggering their bodies to slow down for hibernation. This natural trick to reduce metabolic activity is great for them, but it raises a question for us: are these foods slowing our metabolism too? It turns out, that the high polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) content in many nuts and seeds can actually lower our metabolic rate, suggesting they're not the metabolic superfoods market labels claim them to be. When you compare this to humans, we're all about keeping our metabolism moving, and burning energy efficiently. So, if these animals are eating nuts and seeds to slow things down for hibernation, it kind of makes you wonder: are nuts and seeds really the go-to snacks for keeping our metabolism active?


The Balance Issue


Our bodies require a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, usually estimated at around 1:1. However, in Western society, our diets lean heavily towards omega-6 fats, with ratios up to anywhere from 15:1 to 20:1. This imbalance is a concern because while omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory, omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. The excessive intake of omega-6s, particularly from processed foods and industrial seed oils like soybean, corn, vegetable, canola, and sunflower oil promotes inflammation, potentially leading to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases.



The Saturated vs. Polyunsaturated Fat Debate:


PUFAs: Not All Fats Are Created Equal


You have probably heard from doctors over the years that you want to fill your diet with polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats, but this just isn’t true. Polyunsaturated fats, which are abundant in nuts and seeds, are prone to oxidation. So why is this bad? Oxidization creates free radicals, and unstable molecules that can cause cell damage, leading to oxidative stress and inflammation — the root causes of many chronic diseases and skin problems. Over the past 30 years, Americans have eaten a lot more polyunsaturated fats and a lot less saturated fats. Yet even though doctors have been claiming this is the healthier route, we’ve been dealing with more obesity, sickness, and overall poor health than ever before. While PUFAs are essential in moderation, the typical American diet is crazy high in these fats which creates a lot of health issues.


What kind of health issues?


PUFAs increase your risk of getting diseases like cancer, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and heart disease. Unfortunately, organizations such as the American Heart Association, still recommend oils high in PUFA’S to people for cooking as a “heart-healthy option”, despite recent science showing how harmful they can be for our health once they oxidize at high heat. I have many clients who come to me suffering from oxidative stress, and I always recommend supplementing with vitamin E, specifically the one from MitoLife, as it’s a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, particularly those produced by the oxidation of PUFAs. It works by giving an electron to free radicals, making them harmless and stopping the chain reactions they can start.


Digestion, Hormones And PUFAS


Nutrition expert Dr. Ray Peat explains that PUFAS can stop the enzymes in our guts that break down proteins from working properly. These enzymes are important not just for digesting food, but also for making thyroid hormones, getting rid of blood clots, supporting our immune system, and keeping our cells functioning well. Since these fats can block the digestion of proteins in our stomachs, it's possible to be undernourished even if we're eating a lot of food. In short, oils high in polyunsaturated fats can mess with how we digest protein, make thyroid hormones, protect our bodies, and keep our cells healthy. Now you're probably wondering which fats are actually good for your metabolism?


Saturated Fats


The negative talk surrounding saturated fats has experienced a significant shift in recent years. Saturated fats have been demonized as the culprits behind heart disease and high cholesterol, but this is now being re-evaluated by scientific and nutritional communities. This new outlook on saturated fats has highlighted how important they really are for our health, looking more at their benefits and clearing up a lot of the old myths about them.


Stability and Resistance to Oxidation


One of the standout qualities of saturated fats is their stability, especially compared to polyunsaturated fats. Unlike PUFAs, which contain multiple double bonds prone to oxidation, saturated fats are composed of single bonds that make them highly resistant to oxidation. This resistance to oxidative stress is crucial because oxidation leads to the formation of harmful free radicals, which can damage cells and contribute to chronic diseases. The stability of saturated fats makes them ideal for cooking at high temperatures, as they maintain their structure and don't break down to form harmful compounds.


Essential Roles in the Body


Saturated fats play several vital roles in the body, including:


  • Brain Health: The brain is composed largely of fat, and saturated fats are important for brain function. They help build the structure of brain cells and are part of the communication processes of memory, cognition, and mood.

  • Cellular Integrity: Saturated fats play a crucial role in keeping cell walls flexible and strong. This helps our cells work properly, making it easier for nutrients to move in and out and aiding our immune system in protecting us.

  • Hormone Production: Saturated fats are important for making different hormones, which help us handle stress, keep our metabolism healthy, and support reproductive health. By helping to make these hormones, saturated fats assist in keeping our body balanced and working smoothly.

  • Energy Storage: Saturated fats provide a lot of energy that our body stores in fat tissue and uses when necessary. This stored energy is vital for lasting through times when food is scarce or when we need extra energy.

Rethinking the Link to Heart Disease


Im sure you’ve heard before that saturated fats cause high cholesterol and heart disease, and these scare tactics around saturated fats helped greatly with the marketing of seed oils. If you look into recent research though, these studies show that the link between eating saturated fats and heart health is more complicated, with things like diet, exercise, and genes also playing a big role. On top of this, there's growing evidence that swapping saturated fats for processed carbs or sugar might not lower, and could even raise, the risk of heart problems.


Incorporating Saturated Fats Into Your Balanced Diet


Okay so now you're probably wondering how to incorporate these saturated fats into your daily diet? The key is to prioritize whole food sources of saturated fats, such as dairy, coconut oil, and meat from grass-fed animals, which also provide other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Here are some of my top Saturated Fats that I recommend to my clients to include in their diet:


  1. Coconut Oil: Highly recommended for boosting metabolism, which aids in fat loss and increases energy.

  2. Grass-Fed Butter: Opt for real butter made from cream and salt, with a preference for grass-fed sources for higher quality.

  3. Grass-Fed Ghee: A clarified butter that's great for cooking at high temperatures, Ghee has the flavor of butter but without the milk solids.

  4. Cacao: Yes! Chocolate! Not only delicious but also packed with magnesium and antioxidants. Its saturated fat, like stearic acid, can help improve cholesterol levels.



Nuts and Seeds: Bioavailability, Nutrition & Hormones


Protein in Nuts And Seeds


Nuts and seeds always get a shoutout for being great sources of protein but is this really true? In my opinion, no. The protein in nuts and seeds isn't as easy for our bodies to use as we have originally been told. They've got protein, sure, but because they're also packed with a lot of calories from fats, they're not the most efficient way to get your protein fix. For example, to get just 25 grams of protein, you might end up eating more than 600 calories, mostly just from fat!


Protein And Our Skin:


Apart from protein just being essential for your body to function, protein is super important for your skin health because it's like the building block for keeping your skin strong and healthy. Your skin is made up of proteins, including collagen and elastin, which help it stay firm, elastic, and youthful-looking. When you get enough protein in your diet, you're helping your body repair damaged skin, and you might even slow down the signs of aging.


So Whats The Best Source Of Protein?


Animal proteins are easier for our bodies to use and digest than plant-based proteins like nuts and seeds. This is because animal proteins have all the essential amino acids we need, in the right amounts. Plus, they don't have the antinutrients found in plants that can make it hard for us to absorb protein. The fats in animal sources are less likely to cause inflammation compared to the fats in many plants, making getting protein from animals a more direct and effective way for our bodies to get the nutrients we need.


Antinutrients: Trypsin Inhibitors And Phytates


Nuts and seeds contain trypsin inhibitors, which are mixtures that interfere with our body's ability to digest proteins by blocking certain enzymes. The reason for these inhibitors is to protect the plants from predators but this means when humans consume them it limits the amount of protein available for us to absorb. Additionally, phytates found in nuts and seeds can bind to important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, making them harder for the body to absorb. This interference can potentially result in mineral deficiencies. Oxalates, can grab onto calcium and form crystals that might cause kidney stones or block your body from using calcium properly. Lectins are another kind of nutrient blocker in these foods that can upset your stomach and make things like IBS and other bowel issues worse.


Nuts And Seeds And Our Hormones


Nuts and seeds can immitate estrogen, a super important hormone, in our bodies, which can mess up our hormone balance. Nowadays, a lot of us are already getting too much estrogen from things like pollution, plastic, and certain foods. Adding these kinds of nuts and seeds on top of that can make the problem bigger. For women, to much estrogen might mean problems with your periods or trouble with reproductive health, and for men, it could lower testosterone and energy levels. To keep our hormones happy, it's a good idea to eat foods that don't mess with estrogen too much!


Nut Alternatives And Our Gut & Skin Health:


The world of plant-based alternatives has skyrocketed in popularity, often casting dairy and animal products in a negative light and as the scapegoat for skin problems and health issues.


Nut Butters:


When I first cut out dairy thinking I would heal my acne, I became really restrictive around food, leaving my body craving nutrients and fats that I was no longer allowing myself to consume. When I did finally cave to the cravings the one thing I would let myself have was nut butter! Nut butters have a way of making us want more and more, making it easy to eat too much without even realizing it. When you cut out dairy, you're also cutting out a significant source of animal-derived fats and proteins, which are crucial components of a balanced diet. This leaves a gap in nutrition that many, including myself in the past, try to fill with alternatives like nut butter.


This overreliance on nut butters not only challenges efforts to maintain a balanced diet but can also trigger binge eating behaviours, where the individual consumes large amounts of nut butter in a short period. However, nut butters can't fully replace the range of nutrients found in dairy products. Dairy gives us a special mix of vitamins, minerals, and really good proteins that nut butters just don't have as much of. But, because nut butters are creamy and tasty, people often eat them instead, even though they're not quite the same nutrition-wise.


Nut milks:


Okay so if you're on the dairy-free train, your probably a fan of plant-based milks, but unfortunately nut milks often come with added synthetic vitamins and fillers. These extras, including things like gums and carrageenan, can irritate our gut lining. When our gut isn't happy, it can throw off our metabolic health and since our metabolism is like the control center for our body's balance, upsetting it can lead to all sorts of issues. Our gut is connected to everything and when the lining is irritated, it can start a chain reaction that impacts everything else (Including your skin!).


Plant-based milks are often boosted with extra vitamins and minerals to try and get as close as possible to the whole food benefits of dairy milk but they still tend to fall short in some key areas like protein, zinc, and potassium. It’s also important to keep in mind that synthetic vitamins are not as easily absorbed into our bodies as naturally occurring vitamins. Milk made from things like almonds and cashews usually has a lot less protein and other important nutrients, such as zinc, potassium, and magnesium. Aside from this, in order to improve their flavour and texture, there are often extra sugars, flavours, or other ingredients added that greatly minimize any health benefits.


So, Is There Any Safe Way To Eat Nuts And Seeds?


Even though I don’t typically recommend a lot of nuts and seeds in my client’s diets, moderation is always something to keep in mind. Here are some strategies to make these foods work in small amounts within our diets:


Going Organic: Choosing organic nuts and seeds is a good move. They usually don't have pesticide or herbicide leftovers, so they're cleaner to eat.


Soaking and Sprouting: Soaking nuts and seeds overnight in water can significantly reduce antinutrients like phytates and enzyme inhibitors. This process makes minerals and nutrients more available and the nuts and seeds easier to digest. Sprouting goes a step further by starting the germination process, which makes the nutritional profile and digestibility better.


Moderate Consumption:  Practicing moderation ensures the least amount of negative effects on your gut health!


Selecting Low-PUFA Varieties: Some nuts and seeds are higher in omega-6 PUFAs, which, in excess, can contribute to inflammation and other health issues. Choosing varieties with lower PUFA content or a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio can help maintain a healthier fatty acid balance. For example, walnuts and flaxseeds, which are higher in omega-3s, are usually the better choices.


So How Do Nuts & Seeds Fit In With Our Gut And Skin Health?


Nuts, seeds, and their products are popular in health circles for being easy to use and supposedly good for us. Yet, when we look closer at how they affect our gut, skin, and metabolism, it's clear we need to be careful with how much we eat them. Eating too many can slow down our metabolism, mess with our hormones, and cause issues because of certain natural compounds they have.


At the same time, we now know that saturated fats, found in things like butter and meat, aren't as bad as we once thought. They actually play important roles in keeping our brain, cells, and hormones healthy, and they're a reliable source of energy. I think this should make us question if the recent push against dairy and meat in favor of plant-based options, gives us all the nutrients we need.


The main point? Yes, plant-based milks and nut butters might be tempting for their taste and convenience, but we need to think about their downsides and how they fit into a healthy diet. Like we learned last week on our segment about dairy, if you're cutting out dairy to heal your skin and choosing nut milks as an alternative, this is a band-aid approach and doesn’t get you to the root cause of your acne. The end goal should always be to get our gut and metabolic health to a better place and nuts and seeds might be hindering your progress. If you are feeling lost on where to start, I offer complimentary calls so we can chat about your options to healing your skin and your gut!


P.S. Watch my FREE Clear Skin Masterclass to learn exactly how to get to the root of your acne. This is a must-watch if you are starting your natural skin healing journey! You will learn the steps I take to get my clients life-long results.


None of the above is medical advice.


Love Katie,

xoxo

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