The New Year is well upon us, and I wanted to take this moment to wish you all a very happy and healthy one. May it be filled with lots of exciting new adventures and experiences, in both life and food! Being a foodie and registered dietitian, I love to discover new foods, not only do I very much enjoy the whole eating experience, I also love trying and getting to know new foods, especially when they are beneficial to my health and can add variety to my diet. They say variety is the spice of life, well this couldn’t be truer when it comes to our health and diet! Regularly introducing new foods, ingredients and flavors to our diet versus sticking to the same foods every day, is what ensures that our body gets all the nutrients, and life, it needs from foods! (Little inside scoop, this is also the thinking behind the name I chose for my brand, The Foodful Life).
During the last 5-6 years the popular food or diet trend in January is to decrease our animal protein consumption for the month. Perhaps you are familiar with or even tried for yourself Veganuary, an international campaign encouraging us to try vegan for the whole month of January. With this in mind, I decided to focus this post on introducing you to new, less commonly known plant-based food sources, mainly nuts and seeds, which I feel not only you should discover, but also add to your food repertoire. Let me show you why they merit this attention and how to use them in your kitchen.
This nut is the fruit of the Baruzeiro tree which grows exclusively in Cerrado, a biodiverse tropical savanna region in Brazil. The nuts grow wild and are harvested by the local indigenous community. Sadly the trees were being cut for timber due to the introduction of soy and corn farming, but thanks to the increasing popularity of the baru nut this has changed. Not only are these nuts incredibly healthy for us, but by consuming them we are helping preserve and save this vital region, providing its community a sustainable living, and helping our environment since these nuts require a much lower water footprint than most nuts, seeds and beans.
Why you should eat them? Because they are grown in the wild these nuts are automatically pesticide, fertilizer, chemical and GMO-free. They have caught the attention of the nutrition world because they have a very high nutritional value and contain fewer fat and calories (40% less) than most nuts. Baru nuts are also an excellent source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, and contain about two times more fiber than other nuts, in fact you get roughly 25% of your daily recommended intake in one single serving! They are a very good source of high quality plant-based protein, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids and keep you feeling fuller longer. Finally, they are also a good source of many important minerals such as, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium.
How to use them? Baru nuts are typically sold roasted and have a similar taste to roasted peanuts. I love Staminum Supersnacks baru nuts, they are lightly salted with Himalayan salt and come already portioned in 28 g individual servings for the perfectly healthy and delicious snack. You can also use them to make your own nut milk or nut butter, or add them to meals and recipes as you would other nuts!
The pili nut is another “new” nut that grows in the wild and is inside the fruit of the Canarium Ovatum tree, which technically makes it a seed and not a nut. These trees grow in many areas of Northern Australia, the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines.
Why you should eat them? Like most nuts, pili nuts are rich in fat and calories, a one ounce serving contains about 200 calories. They are some of the fattiest nuts around, even though they contain mostly healthy fats moderation is key! In fact, half of the fat found in pili nuts come from monounsaturated fats which help lower our risk of heart disease by decreasing our bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. They contain a fair amount of high quality, complete protein (9 essential amino acids), which is rare for plant-based foods. What truly makes them stand apart is that they are grown on mineral-rich volcanic soil and contain various minerals. They contain a very high amount of magnesium, a mineral most of us are deficient in, and provide us with our daily dose of manganese and copper, minerals that support bone health, in one single serving! They're also rich in antioxidants due to being very rich in vitamin E. Finally, because they too are wild harvested, they are pesticide, fertilizer, chemical and GMO-free.
How to use them? Pili nuts taste like a mix between macadamia and pistachio nuts, their texture is creamier and even more buttery, resembling more that of pecans and pine nuts. In fact, I think it is the ideal replacement for pine nuts in a pesto recipe and can also be blended into a deliciously creamy milk or butter to spread on your morning bagel! Keep in mind that pili nuts are not commercially grown, consequently they are more expensive than other nuts because the workers need to climb the trees to pick the fruit and then shell them by hand. I love Pili Pushers because their pili nuts are sprouted which improves their digestibility and makes their beneficial nutrients more accessible by our body. They are available unsalted or salted with Himalayan salt, but also in three health boosting flavors: ginger & turmeric, cinnamon & raw honey, and raw cacao & coffee. Find them all here.
Camelina Seed Oil
Another well-kept secret food that I want to introduce you to is camelina oil. Camelina Sativa is an ancient oilseed plant part of the Brassicaceae family (kale, cabbage, broccoli and mustard seed) originating in Northern Europe. The seeds are edible, they can be eaten raw, cooked or sprouted, and offer a delicate cruciferous flavor and crunchy texture to any dish.
Why you should adopt it? Camelina oil also has the most optimal balance of omega 3, 6, 9 and saturated fats of any oil and is a rich source of omega 3 heart healthy fats (36%) which are known for reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and blood clotting. Its abundant vitamin E content makes camelina oil a powerful antioxidant and a great choice to balance inflammation in the body. It is also more stable than many other oils, making it an extremely versatile cooking oil with a high smoke point of 475˚F that retains all of its nutrients and flavors and has an extended shelf life of 18 months. In fact, it is the only omega 3 oil that we can actually cook with. Another advantage of using this oil more often in the kitchen is that it never gels when placed in colder temperatures, consequently if you use it to make marinades or dressings, you’ll never have to wait for them to get back to room temperature before being able to use it!
How to use it? Three Farmers pioneered camelina oil in Canada, growing and pressing it in Saskatchewan. Their oil is 100% non-GMO, natural, unrefined and expeller cold-pressed (mechanically squeezed) without using any toxic chemicals or solvents. This is a brand I absolutely love and support. I particularly love that all their products, including their camelina oil, are traceable right back to the farm that grew them. With all the fraud in the oil industry, this is very important. Camelina oil has a fresh earthy flavor, slightly similar to that of broccoli or asparagus, and becomes a little nutty when heated. It is a great oil for grilling, sautéing, stir-frying or even pan frying your food, but it is also perfect for preparing salad dressings, dips and marinades. It compliments all foods wonderfully, fish, vegetables, meats, potatoes, pasta, it’s even amazing or replacing butter when making popcorn! You can find plenty of recipes using this oil here.
Hemp Seeds, Protein Powder & Oil
The hemp seed is the unshelled fruit or edible kernel of the hemp plant, making it really a nut and not a seed. Once shelled we call them hemp hearts and they are typically eaten raw and whole. Hemp seeds can be transformed into other functional and beneficial forms, hemp protein powder and hemp oil being two of them. All of these foods do not contain any THC and are safe for consumption by all, even children.
Why you should adopt them? Hemp seeds or hearts are a nutrient dense food. They contain high levels of protein; typically three tablespoons contain 10 grams of complete protein, meaning they contain all the nine essential amino acids our body needs, an important factor to consider when integrating more plant-based proteins into our diet. They are a very good source of many vitamins and minerals, plus are a concentrated source of omega 6 and 3 fatty acids, in a healthy 3 to 1 ratio. They have a mild, nutty flavor and buttery texture which reminds me of chopped sunflower seeds or pine nuts. Hemp protein powder is obtained from grinding pressed hemp seeds into a fine powder. It is a high quality and less processed plant-based protein powder that is also very easy to digest (up to 98% of the protein in hemp seeds is digestible) which is not typical when it comes to plant proteins. It is also rich in antioxidants, fiber, heart healthy omega fats and various minerals, particularly magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, selenium and phosphorus. When the hemp seeds are pressed we obtain hemp oil, an increasingly popular seed oil. What is particularly interesting is that it contains gamma-linolenic-acid (GLA) omega 6 fats, a dietary fat that is typically negligible due to it being present only in trace amounts and in a few foods. In fact it is mostly found in supplement form. Hemp oil is a good source of this omega 6 fatty acid GLA delivering a range of health benefits arising from its anti-inflammatory properties. GLA is essential to balance out inflammation in the body and unlike other omega 6 fatty acids is safe even when consumed in large amounts, making hemp oil an interesting and possibly even beneficial addition in promoting youthful skin, increasing metabolism and fat loss, as well as balancing hormones and reducing inflammation associated with PMS and menopausal symptoms.
How to use them? I have been using PlanetHemp Superfood hemp products for almost two years now and can't say enough good things about them. Their products are 100% Canadian; the hemp plants are grown locally by trusted farmers and their hemp products are manufactured in the Prairies, ensuring traceability and the highest quality from start to finish. They have also elevated the standards of farming with their proprietary S.A.F.E. Soil program which essentially improves soil fertility and crop production, resulting in a healthier and more nutrient dense hemp product and most of their products are organic and non-GMO. I also love the fact that their seeds are simply mechanically dehulled into hemp hearts or cold-pressed without any toxic chemicals or solvents into hemp oil. I typically use their hemp products raw in order to benefit from all of their nutrients. Hemp protein powder has a grittier texture because it is less refined/processed and has a nutty, earthy flavor, it is therefore best consumed blended or mixed with other ingredients like in smoothies, shakes, purees versus just being stirred in water. You can also add the hearts and powder to your favorite baked goods recipes, just make sure to only use your hemp oil raw and not heated in order to reap all of its nutrients. Use it to make salad dressing, pesto, hummus, vegan mayo, even chocolate spread! The possibilities are endless, find more inspiration here.
For more tips and tricks on how to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet or to learn more about hemp, the following articles are a great place to start:
*This post is in collaboration with Staminum Supersnacks, Pili Pushers, Three Farmers and PlanetHemp Superfood. All content, opinions, tips and information are entirely my own.
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