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In the 1950’s and 60’s, fatty foods got a really bad rap as the source of all of America’s major health concerns. More and more people were dying of heart attacks, at a younger average age than ever before, and popular nutritionists at the time propagated the idea that fat was almost solely to blame. This idea had little hard evidence to back it up, and has since been debunked by multiple reputable studies.
The sad consequence of what some call the “crusade” against fat is that by adhering to a low fat diet, people began ingesting less protein via nuts, eggs, cheese, and meat. In turn, they consumed more carbohydrates via low-fat wheat, potatoes, and rice. Carbs turn into glucose in the body, which gave us a population with extremely high blood sugar levels that is lacking in healthy fats and nutrients. By eliminating all fats, we avoided healthy fatty acids which have actually now been shown to stabilize cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
This brings me to macadamia nuts, which have long been vilified for their high calorie and fat content. So, what’s the deal with macadamia nuts? Are they as healthy as a 1950’s physician would have you believe? Let’s look into it.
What Are Macadamia Nuts?
Macadamia nuts are tree nuts with a sweet flavor and a buttery texture due to their high oil content. Macadamia trees are indigenous to Australia, specifically New South Wales and Queensland on the east coast and north-east of the country respectively. In 1881, macadamia nuts were brought to Hawaii to serve as a windbreak (thick trees planted strategically around a planted field to protect the crop from wind and to help nourish the soil) for the sugar cane grown there. They became wildly popular in Hawaii, giving the nuts one of its names, “Hawaii nut.” South Africa, Australia and Hawaii are now the largest growers and exporters of macadamia nuts.
How Do Macadamia Nuts Grow?
Macadamia nuts grow in clusters on an evergreen tree that thrive in climates where it rains year round and doesn’t get too cold. The trees are usually grown in picturesque orchard rows, but they are also good trees to consider adding to a home garden. They are harvested in late fall and into spring, preferably by gathering the ripe nuts after they’ve fallen to the ground on their own. A ripe nut has a light green husk that is easily removable, and a golden brown shell underneath. When dried out in the sun, the husks harden and crack open, and the nuts are dried again for 2-3 weeks. Only then are the shells finally cracked open to reveal the edible, soft center.
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Are Macadamia Nuts Healthy?
As mentioned earlier, macadamia nuts have a very high fat content which has given them a label as a less healthy nut. There are other tree nuts with higher nutritional value at a lower caloric cost, but these nuts should not be thrown to the wayside and have some unique benefits to offer. No, you probably don’t want to eat a whole bag of these in one sitting, but a handful here and there will provide a nice amount of healthy monounsaturated fats, some plant-based protein, dietary fiber, and various minerals and vitamins. They have a very low amount of carbohydrates compared to other tree nuts, so they’re suitable for a low-carb diet or for anyone who knows they are getting too much carbs already.
Macadamia nuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acid, which has been shown to improve autoimmune disorders, general brain function, heart health, behavioral and mental stability, and more. Research has suggested that Omega 3 and Omega 6 intake should be balanced by a 1:1 ratio, and an overwhelming number of people are not getting enough 3 and too much Omega 6. Macadamia nuts can help your body maintain the delicate, crucial omega balance.
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The nuts also contain a substantial amount of oleic acid, which helps Omega 3 penetrate the cell membrane and thereby boosts the Omega 3 impact even further.
They also contain crucial B vitamins such as thiamin (100 grams of these nuts give you 100% of the recommended daily value of thiamin), pyridoxine, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid which give you energy, aid the body with cell renewal, regulate amino acid levels, influence mood, reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties.
How Do You Eat Macadamia Nuts?
One way to introduce macadamia nut benefits into your diet is with macadamia oil. Once oil is extracted from a plant, it has roughly the same caloric content of any other oil, so if you’re concerned about the calories in macadamia nuts – this one’s for you. Macadamia nut oil is a really healthy alternative to olive oil as a staple cooking oil for your healthy kitchen. The body needs a balanced 1:1 ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats, but the ratio most of us consume is actually more like 15:1, with far too much Omega 6. Olive oil, a common cooking oil, has an 11:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio, while macadamia nut oil has an optimal 1:1 ratio, which is extremely unique.
Let’s talk about smoke point for a minute. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which the nature of the oil changes, affecting taste and drastically affecting nutritional makeup. Healthy monounsaturated fats become unhealthy fats, many of the oil’s nutrients are broken down, and damaging free radicals are created. Macadamia oil’s smoke point is impressively high at 413 degrees F/210 degrees C, which makes it well-suited for cooking and even frying. The nutty flavor may not be as neutral as olive oil or some other oils are, but it contributes a really nice buttery hint to sweeter dishes, fish, stir fry, salads and anything else you may add nuts to, and it’s used by many celebrated chefs to add flavor complexity to their dishes.
Macadamia nut butter is one of the most delicious nut butters, probably because the nuts have an inherently sweet, buttery flavor. Raw macadamia nut butter can be used as a spread on toast (drizzle some honey on top to kick it up a notch), in baking, can be added to smoothies or milkshakes, and used in sauces and dressings. Making some yourself is as easy as blending up some raw or soaked nuts. A single ingredient, and an awesome one at that.
For a more indulgent treat, try baking delicious white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. Use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe but substitute the chips for a cup of coarsely chopped white chocolate and add a cup of coarsely chopped raw macadamia nuts to the mix. Play around with the ratio of chocolate to nut because that all comes down to personal preference.
Are There Side Effects From Eating Macadamia Nuts? Allergies?
There are no side effects to eating macadamia nuts in small quantities, but because they are so densely caloric, it is not advisable to eat too many nuts – especially as someone trying to lose weight.
Allergies to macadamia nuts are not common, and someone allergic to tree nuts in general is not necessarily allergic to macadamia, as they are classified differently. However, reactions can be very severe and potentially life-threatening. Allergic reactions include itching in the throat, dizziness, swelling and chest pain. In a study monitoring 115 participants, three people experienced mild reactions and two experienced severe reactions requiring immediate medical attention.
As nutrition science gains more clarity and insight into the nuances of fat intake and cholesterol, it becomes more clear that avoiding healthy fats is completely misguided. With the most balanced ratio of mono-unsaturated Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids that any other tree nut, macadamia nuts are an amazing addition to any diet and kitchen.
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