The following definitions of some of the terminology pertinent to raw nuts and seeds and raw nut and seed butters may help in the understanding of this article.
Amino acids: the chief components or building blocks of proteins; of which ten types are not synthesized naturally by the body and must be obtained through diet.
Biochemical: a substance produced by or involved in chemical reactions in living organisms.
Calorie: a unit of heat energy. Any substance, such as sugars, starches, proteins and fats, digested by our body provides us with energy that can be measured in calories.
Carbon atom: a single particle of the chemical element that is the basis of all living (organic) matter.
Cell membrane: A semi-impermeable layer around cells that both limits growth in cells and regulates what may or may not permeate the cell.
Chemical bond: the sharing of a pair of electrons that holds atoms together to form molecules.
Double bond: the sharing of two pairs of electrons between two atoms.
Cholesterol: a fat-soluble substance (technically a steroid) used by cells in the production of cell membranes and in the digestive process, of which 80 percent is manufactured by the liver and the remaining 20 percent comes from the diet.
Compound: a distinct substance formed by the union of elements or parts.
Diuretic: any substance that increases the flow of urine.
Electron: a negatively charged particle surrounding the atomic nucleus (or center of the atom that contains positively charged proton particles).
Element: a substance that makes up matter and that cannot be broken down into other substances.
Enzyme: a biochemical protein catalyst that stimulates specific metabolic reactions when in the proper environment (such as a particular range of temperatures or pH levels).
Fats: a chain of fatty acids that are the main components of plant and animal fat and are an energy (calorie) rich food.
Fatty acid: a chain (or "string" in which each atom shares electrons with the adjacent atom) of carbon atoms with a group of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms that form an acid at one end. This group of atoms is considered an 'acid' because the hydrogen atom does not have its electron making it highly reactive with the electrons of other compounds. There are other hydrogen atoms attached (by sharing electrons) to the rest of the carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain. Different types of fatty acids are determined by the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms in the chain. Linoleic acid is an example of a fatty acid that contains eighteen carbon atoms in its chain.
Free Radical: an atom or group of atoms that has a least one unpaired electron and steals electrons from other compounds.
Hormone: a glandular chemical secretion produced by an organ or part of the body and carried in the bloodstream to another organ or part of the body to stimulate or retard it's function.
Hydrogen atom: a particle of the simplest chemical element comprised of a nucleus (a single positively charged proton particle) and a single electron (negatively charged which balances the positive charge of the proton). Without the electron the hydrogen atom becomes positively charged and will seek out the electrons of other compounds to balance that charge.
Metabolism: all biochemical reactions in the body that store or release energy, including the breakdown of complex substances into simpler ones, as in digestion.
Minerals: inorganic (containing no carbon atoms) substances that are required by the body in small amounts i.e. calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Nutrients: substances that are needed by the body to maintain life and health.
Oils: a liquid fat. The shorter the length of the fatty acid molecule or the more double bonds in the chain of carbon atoms in the fatty acid the more liquid the fat will be at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids tend to be solid at room temperature (such as lard) whereas the unsaturated fatty acids tend to be liquid (such as sunflower oil).
Oxidization: the process by which electrons are removed from one molecule by another molecule (often oxygen), which may cause the original molecule to break down into smaller compounds.
Protein: one of a variety of complex molecular nitrogen-based compounds made of building blocks called amino acids that are the basis of all animal and plant tissue. The body breaks down the protein in foods to construct more proteins, such as hemoglobin, muscle tissue, hormones and DNA, for different uses in the body.
Rancid: the unpleasant quality of the smell or the flavor of a food containing fats that have been oxidized resulting in unfavorable compounds, including free radicals.
Red blood cells: the concave disk shaped cells throughout the bloodstream that deliver oxygen to cells and tissues and return carbon dioxide to the respiratory organs.
Vitamins: substances essential in human nutrition that help with metabolism, growth, vitality, health and resistance to disease i.e. vitamin A, the B vitamin complex, vitamin C, vitamin E and folic acid.
The Potential of Nuts and Seeds
A concentrated food, seeds are bundles of potential; the ripened kernel of a parent plant that is awaiting germination. A nut is simply the seed contained in a hard shell inside a mature fruit. Both nuts and seeds are the part of the plant that feeds the future generation of plants; they contain the inherent power, or life energy, that enables this living organism to produce, establish, and maintain a new life that will itself possess the same potential to continue the life cycle. Fresh raw nuts and seeds and the butters made from them are special because that powerful life energy has not been lost due to roasting or over-heating during the grinding of the raw nuts and seeds.
The Healthful Components of All Nuts and Seeds
The calories, proteins, fatty acids, and many vitamins and minerals contained in the nuts and seeds are what provide the energy for the early growth and development in the life of the next tree or plant. These healthful components of the nuts and seeds may be passed on to the consumer if these nutritional elements are kept intact.
In general, all seeds and nuts are good sources of protein. Protein, an essential part of our diet, makes up about 20 percent of our body weight as the primary component of our muscles, hair, skin, eyes and internal organs. Protein molecules are used also in the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body and in the creation of the many hormones that help to regulate the activity and growth of the cells and to stimulate activity of internal organs. For those attempting to decrease or eliminate their intake of meat, nuts and seeds can provide an excellent source of protein for body maintenance.
Fatty Acids and Our Health
Although the body requires only a small amount of fat after the age of two, the body still does need fat in the diet for the maintenance of health. An energy rich food, fats can be "burned" by the body during times when we need energy and are not getting enough directly from our diet. This energy, measured in calories, will not necessarily be stored in the form of body fat with which the term "calorie" has become associated unless consumed in excess. Fats are used also to help transport other nutrients, to protect and hold in place vital organs and regulate body temperature. They are an essential component of the cell membrane, which encloses the contents of each cell in our bodies and controls which substances enter the cell and which may be expelled. Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids. Raw nuts and seeds provide fatty acids including those fatty acids that the body cannot produce on it's own called essential fatty acids.
There are three types of fatty acids: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. The differences in composition between these types affect the shape of the molecules; the two unsaturated fats are more flexible and more active biochemically and therefore are useful in many bodily functions. They are more desirable in the diet than saturated fats which, although used by the body in small amounts for a variety of purposes, are relatively rigid in shape and, in over abundance, clog the system.
Fatty Acids and Cholesterol
Saturated fats, usually solid at room temperature, are the primary component of fats found in animal products (with few exceptions, like the primarily saturated fats of coconut and palm kernel oil ). These saturated fats can significantly raise the blood cholesterol level whereas polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fats, when taken in moderate amounts, can help reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Low-density lipo-proteins (LDLs) carry cholesterol from the liver to the cells and if not needed by the cells, the unused cholesterol remains in the blood stream. This cholesterol can form a plaque on the artery walls unless it is picked up by the high-density lipo-proteins (HDLs) that remove excess cholesterol from the blood and tissues and return it to the liver. When not consumed in excess, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats will maintain the balance of HDLs and LDLs and in some cases even reduce the LDLs to ensure that excess cholesterol in the bloodstream is kept low.
Most foods have a combination of all three types of fatty acids but the predominant type is what defines the oil or fat as saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated. Raw nuts have primarily one of the two unsaturated types (with coconut and palm kernels being the exceptions) and are therefore a healthful source of fatty acids and a wise choice if one is attempting to lower cholesterol levels.
Vitamins and Minerals
Nuts and seeds are also rich sources of vitamins and minerals, as essential to plants as they are to us. Some of the minerals commonly found in nuts and seeds are calcium (best known for its importance in the development and maintenance of bones and teeth and also used in muscular activity and regulation of the heartbeat); copper (important in blood formation and cell respiration); iron (essential to the oxygen-carrying component of the red blood cell and needed by certain enzymes for energy production and protein metabolism); zinc (involved in immune system support, insulin activity, male prostate health, and enzymatic systems); potassium (important to cellular function and the conduction of nerve impulses); phosphorus (helps form bones and teeth and is vital to the storage and movement of energy in the body on a metabolic level); and magnesium and manganese (both involved in many enzymatic reactions; magnesium in particular helps to relax muscles).
Some of the vitamins found in nuts and seeds are thiamin (vitamin B1 - which has a key role in the cellular production of energy and is important to the health of the nervous system); riboflavin (vitamin B2 - which works with enzymes in energy production and helps the cell utilize oxygen efficiently); niacin (vitamin B3 - which works with enzymes to break down and utilize proteins, fats and carbohydrates, helps stimulate blood circulation and is important to the health of the nervous system, the skin, and the digestive tract tissues); pantothenic acid (vitamin B5 - an anti-stress vitamin that supports the adrenal glands and helps in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats); pyridoxine (vitamin B6 - important both in the creation and the break down of proteins); folic acid (a B vitamin that has a fundamental role in the growth and reproduction of all cells); vitamin A (has several important functions including eyesight, growth, tissue healing and healthy skin) ;and vitamin E (a vitamin found in foods with linoleic acid, which is high in nuts and seeds, and that helps prevent the breakdown of unsaturated fatty acids, like those found in the cell membranes, and other nutrients due to oxidation caused by free radicals).
Healthful Components of Specific Nuts and Seeds
The following chart includes the nutritional components in each of 100 grams of hulled raw sunflower seeds, hulled raw sesame seeds, hulled raw pumpkin seeds and raw almonds as found in a study done by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Looking at the chart of the nutritional components of nuts and seeds, it is clearly evident that fresh raw nuts and seeds are full of healthful benefits.
|units||Sunflower Seeds*||Sesame Seeds*||Almonds*||Pumpkin Seeds*|
Sunflower seeds are high in linoleic acid, an unsaturated essential fatty acid that plays an important role in the regulation and functioning of every organ and cell in the body. Linoleic acid also helps to balance and heal the immune system as well as reduce inflammatory reactions such as those seen in arthritis and allergic reactions. Sunflower seeds are high in potassium and low in sodium and may be helpful as a diuretic or for those who already take diuretics, in order to replace lost potassium. These seeds are almost 25 percent protein and have a good fiber content. Sunflower seeds are also rich in the B vitamins (particularly thiamine, pyridoxine, niacin, and pantothenic acid) and have good levels of zinc, iron, and calcium.
In terms of offering the broadest array of healthful benefits, almonds may be the best all-around nut with a fat content less than most nuts and a protein concentration near 20 percent. Most of the fats in almonds are polyunsaturated and, like sunflower seeds, are high in linoleic acid, our main essential fatty acid. Almonds are high in vitamin E and contain some B vitamins. Calcium is found in high amounts and the minerals copper, iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus as well as magnesium and manganese are present in beneficial amounts.
Sesame seeds are probably the most commonly used seed worldwide. They are about 25 percent protein and contain vitamins A and E and most of the B vitamins (except B12 and folic acid). Sesame seeds are very high in several minerals including zinc, calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium and iron.
Pumpkin seeds are a mineral rich food. They are very high in copper, magnesium and potassium and especially high in zinc, iron and phosphorus. Pumpkin seeds are high in protein and contain vitamin E and a mix of B vitamins.
Maintaining the Benefits of Raw Nuts and Seeds when Making Nut and Seed Butters
To maintain the benefits of these components, there are three major areas of concern: that fresh raw nuts and seeds are used, that the nuts and seeds are ground at a low temperature and, finally, that the butter is kept refrigerated and is consumed while still fresh. When creating fresh raw nut and seed butters from these nuts and seeds, the goal is to enhance the flavor while retaining the nutrients. The nut butter is bound to be more flavorful when the ingredients have been kept as fresh and as nutritionally intact as possible. Part of this goal is to minimize the conversion of the healthful components of nuts and seeds into unhealthy substances during processing, such as altering the form of the unsaturated fatty acids by heat or oxidation.
Most nut and seed butters are made from roasted nuts. These once raw nuts and seeds have been deprived of their life potential by being cooked. Furthermore, if the nuts or seeds have been roasted in oil, not only has the life potential been damaged, but the amount of fat in the nuts, which includes the saturated fats, has been increased. In the process of being ground into butter, the roasted nuts and seeds are again heated up, having an even greater debilitating effect on the nutritional value of the nuts and seeds. Even raw nut and seed butters retain their life energy and unique flavor only if they are kept fresh and if the temperature during grinding has been closely monitored. Consider as a guideline the maximum temperature in the desert that still allows for the continuance of life and use that as a reference point for the maximum temperature allowable in the grinding of nuts and seeds. The heat friction of the grinding must not cook the raw nuts and seeds and the butter must be kept fresh by refrigeration.
The Effects of Heat
Heat, either as a result of roasting or of continuous grinding, affects the life energy by altering the shape of the unsaturated fatty acids in the natural oils. The difference between the three types of fatty acids is determined by the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms in the chain. Saturated fatty acids have the maximum number of hydrogen atoms that the carbon chain can hold and have a relatively linear shape; whereas monounsaturated fatty acids have less hydrogen atoms and instead have a double bond between two of the carbon atoms, which gives the molecule a bent shape. Polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds between pairs of carbon atoms, giving the chain an even more twisted shape than the monounsaturated fatty acids. Because of their flexible shape, these molecules can be readily used in the cell (such as in producing a more flexible cell membrane). A double bond allows for different uses in the cell because it can be changed to incorporate more hydrogen atoms or it can be broken apart to produce smaller molecules.
The molecular structure of the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids is changed by heat from a flexible, bent shape that is easy for the body to utilize into a straightened form. This form is similar to the shape of the less-reactive saturated fatty acid and cannot be efficiently processed biologically because it is more stable and less chemically active, thereby clogging the metabolic pathways. The effect is similar to the process of hydrogenation which under the pressure of hydrogen gas, the fatty acids present in natural oils are reshaped from bent to straight. The transformed fats, with a now straightened form, may cause the cells trying to use these fat molecules to function less effectively and may even be linked to atherosclerosis and cancer. Some enzymes that would normally utilize the unaltered fatty acid are unable to use the transformed fatty acid due to its unsuitable shape. The fatty acids found in naturally occurring unrefined oils in nuts and seeds are more readily digestible and more beneficial to the body than those that have been heated to the point where their shape is dramatically changed.
Heating also destroys the beneficial enzymes that are naturally found in the nuts and seeds from which the butter is made. These enzymes, such as lipase, are needed to digest the fat. When nuts and seeds are roasted or the friction during grinding creates excess heat, the natural enzymes found in the nuts and seeds are destroyed, which forces the body to produce the necessary digestive enzymes and diverts energy away from producing enzymes that aid in rejuvenation of the body. Oil extracted from the seeds or nuts, even if cold pressed, has had many nutrients and enzymes removed or destroyed that would otherwise aid in digestion. With low-temp ground nut and seed butters, almost all of the nutrients, the fatty acids and the enzymes needed to digest them are kept intact while their delicious taste is enhanced.
Taking Care to Preserve Life Energy
When making nut and seed butters, the seeds and nuts should be ground 2 to 5 times in short intervals with a cool down period between grinds, instead of one uninterrupted grinding. Grinding non-stop until the nuts and seeds become butter overheats and devitalizes the food. The life energy and rich flavor of the nuts and seeds may be preserved by maintaining a low temperature during grinding and then refrigerating immediately afterwards. In this way, one can expect to retain a much higher degree of life energy in the food that one is eating.
Refrigeration, Rancidity, and Oxidation
The life energy of the nuts and seeds may be preserved using a careful grinding process but, in order to maintain the high degree of value, the fresh raw nut butter must be kept refrigerated. Although nuts and seeds are less perishable than most fruits and vegetables, refrigeration will help maintain optimum quality for extended periods of time. Nuts and seeds are prone to a number of different forms of deterioration, such as loss of color and flavor and development of molding, staleness and rancidity; all of which can be slowed or stopped by refrigeration. Extended exposure to light and air causes foods with oils to become rancid by the process of oxidation, which breaks down the fats, resulting in compounds that smell rancid. Oil paints are essentially oils that react quickly with air and oxidize into stable, dry compounds that give off a rancid smell. If enough light energy is absorbed by the fat molecule, an electron may use that energy to "escape", making the fatty acid less stable. Alternatively, another molecule, commonly an oxygen molecule (hence the name, "oxidation"), having already lost an electron, may steal an electron from the fatty acid. Whatever the cause, when a fatty acid loses an electron, it is forced to either acquire another electron to balance the lost charge or break down into smaller compounds that may be detrimental to a person's health. These damaging compounds will either propagate the deterioration of more fatty acids or affect other substances in the body, such as proteins or possibly genetic material. The warmer the fats are, the less light energy they require to initiate the process of oxidation. Not heating the nuts and seeds during grinding and then refrigerating the butter slows the process of oxidation by reducing the potential for the fatty acids to absorb enough energy to lose an electron and thereby start the process of deterioration.
Having more double bonds, polyunsaturated fatty acids tend to be more prone to oxidation than monounsaturated fatty acids, creating some concern as to the benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, to what extent rancidity of polyunsaturated fatty acids occurs in a food source, such as the nuts and seeds the fatty acids are found in, has been difficult to prove due to the presence of natural anti-oxidants. Nuts and seeds naturally contain compounds, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, called anti-oxidants that slow the oxidation process by absorbing lost electrons. Oils that have been extracted from their source lose the natural anti-oxidants; subsequently, artificial anti-oxidants, such as BHT, are added in an attempt to slow oxidation. Fresh raw, low temperature ground nut and seed butter retain their anti-oxidants, which may be lost in heating or roasting; therefore, the fatty acids and their healthful benefits keep longer.
Knowledge of the date the nut butter was produced and the product's refrigeration assures the consumer of its freshness as the time it takes for fats to go rancid depends upon the extent of exposure to light, air and heat. A factor in this procedure is the speed at which the fresh nut butter is transferred from the manufacturer to the store's refrigeration system. Obviously, the faster the distribution the better for the preservation of the oils, the nutritional value and the flavor of the food.
Ensuring That Raw Means Fresh
Even commercial butters that are sold as "raw", need only use unroasted, raw nuts and seeds but technically do not have to monitor their grinding temperatures which may for all intents be warm enough to cook the nuts and seeds. As of this writing, the author knows of only one commercial producer of nut and seed butters concerned with both low temperature grinding and product refrigeration and that is Rejuvenative Foods (1-800-805-7597). The varieties of flavors of Fresh Raw Nut & Seed Butters that Rejuvenative Foods produces include: Organic Almond Butter (just raw organic almonds), Organic Luscious (raw organic almonds, raw organic sesame seeds, and raw organic sunflower seeds), Organic Tahini (raw organic hulled sesame seeds), Organic Halvah (raw organic hulled sesame seeds and raw local honey), Organic Sunflower Seed Butter (raw organic sunflower seeds), Organic Pumpkin Seed Butter (fresh raw organic hulled pumpkin seeds), Hemp Seed Butter (raw, pesticide-free, hulled hemp seeds), and Almond Butter (raw almonds).
The important point is that tasty, raw, low temperature ground nut and seed butters provide the opportunity to consume the nuts and seeds with the proteins, enzymes, anti-oxidants and the many vitamins and minerals intact and with the fatty acids unaltered by heat and still in their natural healthful form. In this flavorful and healthful way you are able to obtain the valuable energy that is stored in raw nuts and seeds, the concentrated potential of plant life.