Linda Ohr

Linda Milo Ohr

It’s the little things in life that often go unnoticed, but sometimes they can pack quite a punch. Such is the case with nuts, legumes, and seeds. While small in size, they offer numerous nutrients and health benefits. While some are rich in fiber, others offer protein, vitamins, and fatty acids. Here’s a brief look at some of these little wonders.Research has linked legumes including beans to benefits ranging from improved cognitive health to reduced cancer risk.

Nuts have been linked to heart health and weight management. Most recently, Jenkins et al. (2011) showed that two ounces of nuts daily as a replacement for carbohydrate foods improved both glycemic control and serum lipids in type 2 diabetics. Recent research has also looked at benefits of specific nuts.

• Almonds. In a scientific review, Berryman et al. (2011) discussed potential mechanisms of almonds’ effect on reducing low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Almonds are low in saturated fatty acids, rich in unsaturated fatty acids, and contain fiber, phytosterols, and plant protein. The researchers reported that other cardioprotective nutrients unique to almonds include α-tocopherol, arginine, magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium, and potassium. Nutrients provided by almonds may target primary mechanistic routes of LDL cholesterol reduction including decreased (re)absorption of cholesterol and bile acid, increased bile acid and cholesterol excretion, and increased LDL cholesterol receptor activity.

Mori et al. (2011) demonstrated that consuming a breakfast containing almonds aided in stabilizing blood glucose levels for the better part of the day—while also keeping study participants satiated longer. The researchers assessed the effects of various forms of almonds on markers of insulin sensitivity and satiety in pre-diabetic subjects (14 adults, average age of 39 years). Participants consuming a breakfast containing whole almonds experienced more sustained feelings of fullness and had lower blood glucose concentrations after breakfast and a second meal compared to subjects consuming the control breakfast. It was noted that whole almonds provided the greatest feeling of fullness. The test breakfast that included whole almonds moderated post-meal glucose concentrations better than those that included almond butter, oil, or flour.

• Pistachios. Kay et al. (2010) suggested that a heart-healthy diet including pistachios contributes to a decrease in the serum oxidized-LDL concentration through cholesterol-lowering and may provide an added benefit as a result of the antioxidants the pistachios contain. When participants consumed pistachio-enriched diets (32–63 g/day or 63–126 g/day), they had higher plasma lutein, α-carotene, and β-carotene concentrations than after the baseline diet. They also had lower serum oxidized-LDL concentrations.

• Walnuts. Already associated with heart health, walnuts have also been linked to benefits related to brain health and cancer. Hardman et al. (2011) showed that consuming walnuts slowed both the development and growth of breast cancer tumors in mice. Researchers looked at the effects of a diet containing a modest amount of walnuts—the equivalent of 2 ounces for humans daily—across the lifespan of the mice. In addition, gene expression analyses indicated that consumption of the walnut diet altered expression of multiple genes associated with proliferation and differentiation of mammary epithelial cells.

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Walnuts contain a number of potentially neuroprotective compounds like vitamin E, folate, melatonin, polyphenols, and n-3 α-linolenic fatty acid. Pribis et al. (2011) showed that in young, healthy, normal adults, walnuts may have the ability to increase inferential reasoning. A total of 64 college students were randomly assigned to two treatment sequences in a crossover fashion. Students consuming walnuts showed an improvement in inference after consuming one-half cup of walnuts daily for eight weeks.

Legumes are loaded with various nutrients, boasting protein and fiber. “Research shows that beans contain essential components related to a healthy diet: lean protein, complex carbohydrates(soluble fiber and resistant starch), vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” says Gordon Gregory, Vice President/General Manager, ADM Edible Beans Specialties Inc., Decatur, Ill. (phone 800- 637-5843, “Beans can play an important role in maintaining already normal healthy levels of both blood cholesterol and glucose as a result of their content of soluble fiber and resistant starch.”

Research has also potentially linked legumes to cognitive health and cancer. Gu and Scarmeas (2011) showed that a higher intake of certain foods (legumes like beans, fruits and vegetables, fish, and nuts) and a lower intake of other foods (meats, high-fat dairy, and sweets) seemed to be associated with lower odds of cognitive deficits or reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Tantamango et al. (2011) found that people with no evidence of polyps were more likely than those with polyps to be frequent eaters of beans and other legumes, as well as brown rice, cooked vegetables, and dried fruit.

Pulses are also part of the legume family, but have a lower fat content. Pulses include dry peas (green and yellow), lentils, and chickpeas. They offer a source of folate, antioxidants, and key minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc, while being low-fat, cholesterol-free, and gluten-free and having a low glycemic index. Dry peas, lentils and chickpeas contain both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as protein, containing seven of the eight essential amino acids needed in the human body.

Pulses are believed to aid in weight control thanks to their complex carbohydrate content as well as their fiber, resistant starch, and protein content along with the fact that they are low in fat. McCrory et al. (2010) showed that there is some indication of a beneficial effect of pulses on short-term satiety and weight loss during intentional energy restriction.

Ingredient suppliers offer legumes in various forms. For example, ADM offers the VegeFull™ product line. “ADM’s cooked ground bean products are pre-washed, pre-soaked, pre-cooked, and ground, making them easy to incorporate,” says Gregory. “They are available in many forms including powders, grits, pieces, noodles, and whole beans.” The cooked ground beans can be incorporated into a variety of products including sheeted products (chips, tortillas, crackers), extruded products (puffs, cereals, pasta), baked products (cookies, breads, cakes, brownies), and dips, bars, and crisps. Gregory adds that another very innovative way beans show their nutritional value in food products is by enabling a vegetable claim. A product can claim a ½ serving or a full serving of vegetables when the appropriate amounts of beans are added to the formula.

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“Edible beans can be used in a variety of pet foods including vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free,” adds Jolene Hoke, Companion Animal Technical Sales Specialist, ADM Alliance Nutrition Inc. “The functionality of edible beans lends its ability to be used in all of the processes used in pet food or treat manufacturing.”

Last year, SK Food International, Fargo, N.D. (phone 701-356-4106,, introduced the addition of Identity Preserved Certified Organic and Conventional Non-GMO precooked bean, pea, and lentil powders and flakes. Custommilled, these precooked powders and flakes offer a viable high-protein alternative to other ingredients that carry gluten and allergen risks. SK Food offers a granulation from a coarse flake to a fine powder to fit customers’ specifications.

• Chia seed. Chia seeds are a source of α-linolenic acid, protein, and fiber. Poudyal et al. (2012) showed that chia seeds induced lipid redistribution associated with cardioprotection and hepatoprotection in rats. Diets of the treatment groups were supplemented for 8 weeks with 5% chia seeds after 8 weeks on a high-carbohydrate, highfat diet. Chia seed-supplemented rats had improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, reduced visceral adiposity, decreased hepatic steatosis, and reduced cardiac and hepatic inflammation and fibrosis without changes in plasma lipids or blood pressure.

In January 2011, BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif. (phone 310-669-2100,, introduced steam-sterilized chia, which preserves all of the seeds’ healthful properties. The seeds can be used in various applications including cereals, breads, soups, salad dressings, and nutrition bars. Chia seeds can also be mixed with liquids to create sweet, yet powerful drinks for athletes, with omega-3s to address inflammation and protein to help with muscle recovery. Brownies made with chia, which BI offered at last year’s SupplySide West show, contained 50% less fat than traditional brownies and delivered 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving.

• Sunflower seed. Sunflower seeds offer 76% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin E (National Sunflower Association). One ounce delivers about 25% of daily needs for selenium. Sunflower seeds also contain dietary folate and magnesium, and are good sources of copper, iron, and zinc. They also boast phytochemicals like phenolic acids and lignans.

• Hemp seed. Hemp seeds provide both of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed in the human diet—linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid—as well as a complete and balanced complement of all essential amino acids.


Linda Milo Ohr,
Contributing Editor, Denver, Colo.
[email protected]

About the Author

Linda Milo Ohr,
Contributing Editor
Denver, Colo.
[email protected]
Linda Ohr


Berryman, C.E., Preston, A.G., Karmally, W., Deckelbaum, R.J., and Kris-Etherton, P.M. 2011. Effects of almond consumption on the reduction of LDL-cholesterol: a discussion of potential mechanisms and future research directions. Nutrition Reviews 69(4): 171-185.

Gu, Y. and Scarmeas, N. 2011. Dietary patterns in Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive aging. Curr. Alzheimer Res. 8(5): 510-9.

Hardman, E., Ion, G., Akinsete, J.A., and Witte, T.R. 2011. Dietary walnut suppressed mammary gland tumorigenesis in the C(3)1 TAg mouse. Nutrition and Cancer 63(6): 960-970.

Jenkins, D.A., Kendall, C.W.C., Banach, M.S., Srichaikul, K., Vidgen, E., Mitchell, S., Parker, T., Nishi, S., Bashyam, B., de Souza, R., Ireland, C., and Josse, R.G. 2011. Nuts as a replacement for carbohydrates in the diabetic diet. Diabetes Care 34 (8): 1706-1711.

Kay, C.D., Gebauer, S.K., West, S.G., and Kris-Etherton, P.M. 2010. Pistachios increase serum antioxidants and lower serum oxidized-LDL in hypercholesterolemic adults. J. Nutr. 140(6): 1093-1098.

McCrory, M.M., Hamaker, B.R., Lovejoy, J.C., and Eichelsdoerfer, P.E. 2010. Pulse consumption, satiety, and weight management. Adv. Nutr. 1: 17-30.

Mori, A.M., Considine, R.V., and Mattes, R.D. 2011. Acute and second-meal effects of almond form in impaired glucose tolerant adults: a randomized crossover trial. Nutr. Metab. (Lond). 8: 6. published online January 28.

Poudyal, H., Panchal, S.K., Waanders, J., Ward, L., and Brown, L. 2012. Lipid redistribution by α-linolenic acid-rich chia seed inhibits stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 and induces cardiac and hepatic protection in diet-induced obese rats. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 23(2): 153-162.

Pribis, P., Bailey, R.N., Russell, A.A., Kilsby, M.A., Hernandez, M., Craig, W.J., Grajales, T., Shavlik, D.J., and Sabatè, J. 2011. Effects of walnut consumption on cognitive performance in young adults. British Journal of Nutrition, FirstView Article: 1-9.

Tantamango, Y.M., Knutsen, S.F., Beeson, W.L., Fraser, G., and Sabate, J. 2011. Foods and food groups associated with the incidence of colorectal polyps: the Adventist Health Study. Nutrition and
Cancer 63(4): 565-72.