Sunflower Seeds – sunny bright flowers morphed into nutritious treats!

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I’m in Northern Spain and September is harvest time for sunflowers. These nutritious treats are ubiquitous, munched at half time at the soccer, on loaves, in muesli. Tree nuts can be costly but tiny sunflower seeds are equally nutritious and very cheap.

IMG_20170911_124516560 copyFrom Sunflower to Food – what happens?

The salted sunflower snack that we crack open to eat the seed is usually prepared by soaking or boiling the seeds in salted water then roasting them. Although the seeds are high in calories, these are slow to eat and so long as the salt level isn’t high, we get a nutritious snack.

Whole seeds are mashed and processed to extract the oil – more on sunflower oil later.

 

 

Lots of calories but what about nutrients?IMG_0976

A 30g serve of sunflower seeds contains around:

177kcal

6g protein

16g fat – 6g mono-unsaturates, mostly oleic 7g poly-unsaturates, mostly linoleic

3g fibre

Around half our daily requirement for vitamin E – 10.6mg

A little calcium and iron, B vitamins and Vitamin A

Plus squalene and sterols both of which are associated with a reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease.

The raw seed is low in sodium

 

How About Cooking with sunflower oil?

On the face of it, sunflower oil looks good, excellent mono and poly unsaturated fatty acids, and a high smoking point (225). Oils like olive oil and butter have much lower smoking points which made them seem unsuitable for frying – but now we know better. Sunflower oil is great raw, but as with corn oil, at high temperatures they produce aldehydes which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Canola oil is a better choice for frying.

For more on this: www.hippocraticpost.com/nutrition/toxic-truth-vegetable-oil/

 

Chocolate Cheer!

 

Chocolate coated cookies
Chocolate coated Spanish cookie treats from San Sebastian

What makes us so attracted to chocolate?

The sweet taste.
The coating of our taste buds as it dissolves in our mouth.
The rich and delicious flavour that can also be a complex bitter/sweet mixture.
And for those with a chocolate habit, the feeling can seem addictive.

Only in moderation?

The health enhancing Mediterranean diet includes a few squares of dark chocolate daily!
However, caution is advised. Milk chocolate contains around 30% fat and 52% sugar so this is definitely a treat food. But, it does have some nutritionally redeeming features. A 50g serve of milk choc provides around 10% of our daily iron and calcium needs, some choline and useful amounts of riboflavin and B12.

It also contains variable amounts of the flavanol theobromine, the concentration increasing with the quantity of cocoa solids.  This unusual substance acts on the nervous system to reduce the inactivation of some processes controlled by neurotransmitters and hormones. The effects can be to stimulate the heart, cause vaso dilation, reduce blood pressure plus have diuretic properties. These effects can be beneficial but not for people with heart burn where the relaxation of sphincters can cause reflux. The oxalate in chocolate may also increase the risk of kidney stones in those whose intake is high. The theobromine in 50g can be enough to poison a small dog.  

The best pleasure comes from the best quality and the range is enormous, but moderation is still the recommendation. Also, be aware that cocoa farming has been linked to the use of child labour, the situation is complex but finding a product we trust is a good start. Some ethical chocolate brands are found here.

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Walnuts – the crunch!

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Walnuts – the edible options are endless.

Eaten Spanish style with cheese and honey is divine, in homemade cake or banana loaf is scrumptious, tossed in a salad or over breakfast cereal is a treat. The flavour is fabulous and the soft crunch under the teeth gives a brilliant texture.

Healthy Walnut Research

The University of Barcelona has been working on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for years. The inclusion of a 30g daily serve of tree nuts, – mostly walnuts, with almonds and hazelnuts too, produced a massive 30% reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke.

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What’s good in Walnuts?

Lots of poly and mono unsaturated fats – and to stop these fats going rancid, there are lots of antioxidants – all wrapped up in a crunchy fibrous structure.

Fats come with calories, it’s not surprising that 100g walnuts have 654 kcal – our Spanish friends recommend a modest 30g per day. Walnuts are 15% protein, 7% dietary fibre – a smattering of iron, calcium and selenium with bits of the antioxidant vitamins E and A, and some B vitamins folate and niacin. The high protein value means that a small serve of walnuts provides a big feeling of satiety.   This comes with very little sodium and low carbohydrate.

The fancy chemicals are the flavanols, the anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins. These guys are the antioxidants associated with protecting us from heart disease and stroke.

Walnuts also contain a little choline which is showing promise in research on the prevention of cognitive decline in old age.

Storage – keep cool. All nuts are high in fats, to avoid them getting bitter and rancid we need to eat them promptly or keep them cool – and check the ‘eat-by’ dates when we buy them.

There’s lots more interesting info on walnuts, here’s a taster !