Joanne SmithMany people may be surprised to learn that nuts are the hard-shelled fruit of plants. There are 53 different types of nuts in the world, and every kind has a multitude of health benefits. I won’t describe and go into the details of each one in this column, but I want to discuss three that are extremely beneficial for people with neurological conditions and/or mobility impairments.

Walnuts are a healthy source of protein, Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Eating these brain-shaped nuts is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (people with mobility impairments/reduced activity levels are at increased risk of developing this disease) and improved brain health (in some studies, spinal cord injury has been associated with reduced brain function). If this weren’t enough to get you snacking on these earthy-tasting gems, then maybe this next fact will: Research recently published in The Journal of Nutritional  Biochemistry reveals that walnuts also contribute to better gut health. Specifically, eating walnuts can significantly increase the number and function of beneficial bacteria, like Lactobacillus, in the gut. In turn these bacteria help support the immune system, aid overall digestion and help improve bowel function/bowel management routines (many people with neurological conditions experience compromised immune function, as well as chronic digestive and/or bowel dysfunction).

There are 53 different types of nuts in the world, and every kind has a multitude of health benefits.Almonds, in addition to being loaded with protein and fiber, are beneficial in cholesterol management. A new Penn State study published in The Journal of Nutrition revealed that eating this nut as a snack, versus eating a muffin with the same amount of calories, reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increases the levels and function of “good” HDL cholesterol. (Individuals with SCI and others who have difficulty exercising regularly are especially at risk of high LDL and low HDL levels — which can contribute to cardiovascular disease).

Coconuts are officially a fruit — a drupe, a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed — but can also be considered a nut. Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids. While many people are hesitant to eat fats, rest assured, these fats are good for you. Unlike other fats, MCFAs are easily utilized as an energy source and not readily stored as fat, so for individuals who experience fatigue or gain weight easily, this is the fat for you. Coconut oil is also a natural antimicrobial and antifungal that can help support your immune system. Specifically, the lauric acid in coconut oil is known to fight bacteria, so it can assist in fighting infections such as UTIs. Moreover, this easily digestible oil can help reduce inflammation. People with disabilities are prone to systemic inflammation due to pain, stress, infection, medication intake and poor diets. Chronic inflammation can contribute to increased susceptibility to pain, weakened immune function and tissue damage. Coconut oil has high levels of antioxidants, which neutralize the free radicals that contribute to inflammation, thus ultimately reducing inflammation.

So, in a nutshell, a simple way to improve and protect your immune, digestive, bowel, neurological and cardiovascular health, as well as boost energy levels, is to eat some nuts every day. You don’t need a lot — just a golf ball-size of raw, unsalted almonds or walnuts will do. Or try this nutty recipe. Eat two or three of these with a banana for breakfast or enjoy as an afternoon energy boosting snack.

Nutty Tips:
• Eat nuts raw.
• Avoid roasted nuts as roasting dries up their natural healthy fats, and they may be cooked in unhealthy hydrogenated oils.
• Avoid salted nuts — most people over consume salt on a daily basis. Excess salt consumption can contribute to edema and high blood pressure.
• Other exceptional nuts: Pecan, Pistachio, Brazil nuts, macadamias

Storing Nuts:
• Nuts contain healthy oils, which go rancid easily. Keep for up to a month at room temperature, but out of direct sunlight.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to six months and in the freezer for up to a year.
• Keep nuts away from foods like onions, as they take on the odor.
• Unsalted/whole nuts keep longer than salted/chopped ones.

No-Bake EnergyNo-Bake Energy Bites Bites

½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 large tbsp. coconut oil
1 med jar almond butter
½ cup dark chocolate chips

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Place in fridge for 10 minutes to allow mixture to slightly harden.
2. Remove from fridge and form mixture into 1-inch balls and place on parchment paper
3. Place back in fridge for two hours and then enjoy! I recommend making and freezing extra energy bites to enjoy for weeks to come.