Want to immediately boost your health and vitality? Why not take the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge? You’ll give your diet a needed hit of nutrition from an increase in fiber, protein, quality fats, antioxidants and a host of essential vitamins and minerals. Better, researchers have found lowered chances for cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, cancer, and more among the benefits gained from daily nut and seed consumption. Take the challenge and learn new eating skills, recipes and habits that you’ll be able to keep forever – and hopefully keep your body ticking optimally along the way.
What is the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge?
Unlike the other food challenges posted on this site, the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge won’t require a major shift in your overall eating habits, though the suggested seven day meal plan does follow a whole foods diet. Instead, each day for seven days you will include nuts and seeds in your diet, though not for every meal. Suggestions for how to incorporate more nuts and seeds will follow in later sections of this article.
Why Eat More Nuts & Seeds?
Currently, the standard American diet is roughly 62% processed foods, 26% meat, and only 12% whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, tubers and legumes (however, french fries make up half of the whole foods category). As reported in Newsweek, over 50% of the American diet consists of ultra-processed foods that can be bought at 7-Eleven. This way of eating is horribly unhealthy and we see its consequences in high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, autoimmune disorders, and chronic kidney disease, among others. Flipping these numbers around can only help reverse this terrible trend. If this is your diet, definitely do the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge! It’s probably the easiest of all food changes to undertake and keep up.
In reclaiming our health and waistlines, the place to start is with diet. That means a two-pronged attack of cutting down on our over-consumption of processed foods which actively destroy our health while at the same time consuming mostly whole foods which will build, maintain and repair our bodies in maximum health.
So what makes nuts and seeds so powerful for our health?
In general, nuts and seeds are great sources of good fat, fiber, antioxidants and protein. Nuts and seeds also pack a number of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and vitamin E. Seeds like flax, chia and hemp are also high in thiamine. Most of the fat in nuts and seeds is monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. While nuts are high in calories, one meta-analysis of 33 studies found that diets high in nuts do not significantly affect weight gain or weight loss (1). Additionally, both seeds and nuts, being high in fiber, feed your beneficial bacteria which aid so much in a number of our systems.
Studies back up the health benefits of daily nut and seed consumption.
Researched Benefit of Nuts
Nuts are a great hedge against disease and premature death. Eating a small amount of nuts each day may help people live longer, according to a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the study, which included information from more than 118,000 people, those who ate about 1 ounce (28 grams) of nuts daily, seven days a week, were 20 percent less likely to die over a 30-year period compared with those who did not consume nuts.
When the researchers looked at specific causes of death, they found that people who ate a daily ounce of nuts were 29 percent less likely to die of heart disease, 24 percent less likely to die from respiratory disease and 11 percent less likely to die from cancer. The link between nut consumption and longer life held even after the researchers took into account factors that might affect people’s life span, such as their weight, physical activity, and fruit and vegetable consumption.
Eating nuts less often than daily was also linked with a reduced risk of death, but the link was not as strong as eating daily: People who ate nuts two to four times a week were 13 percent less likely to die during the study period, those who ate nuts once a week had a 11 percent reduced risk of death and those who ate nuts less than once a week were 7 percent less likely to die during the study period. The findings were similar for consumption of peanuts as well as tree nuts, including walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds.
Other nut study findings. People eating nuts and living longer than those who don’t may be due to nuts’ ability to help prevent a number of chronic diseases (2, 3, 4, 5). For example, nuts may reduce risk factors for metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels (6, 7, 8, 9).
In fact, one study in over 1,200 people found that eating a Mediterranean diet plus 30 grams of nuts per day decreased the prevalence of metabolic syndrome more than a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet with olive oil (10). Furthermore, nuts may reduce your risk of other chronic diseases. For example, eating nuts may improve blood sugar levels and lower your risk of certain cancers (11, 12).
Researched Benefits of Seeds
Seeds share similar nutritional benefits with nuts. They are great sources of healthy fats, vegetarian protein, fiber, and antioxidants. They also contain many important vitamins and minerals. When consumed as part of a healthy diet, seeds can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, inflammation and blood pressure. Consumption is also linked to reduced risk for various cancers.
For example, a couple of studies have shown that eating flaxseeds may reduce markers of tumor growth in women with breast cancer, and may also reduce cancer risk (13, 14, 15). One observational study of more than 8,000 people found that those who had a higher intake of pumpkin and sunflower seeds had a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer (24). What’s more, similar benefits have been shown regarding prostate cancer in men (16).
In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, flaxseeds may also help reduce blood sugar, which may help lower the risk of diabetes (17). A study of 20 people with type 2 diabetes found that eating 37 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks reduced blood pressure and levels of several inflammatory chemicals (18, 19, 20). Similarly, studies have shown that hemp seed oil may help reduce symptoms of eczema and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Sesame seeds may also help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which can worsen symptoms of many disorders, including arthritis.
A couple of interesting studies have shown that sesamin from sesame seeds may get converted by your gut bacteria into another type of lignan called enterolactone (21, 22). Enterolactone can act like the sex hormone estrogen, and lower-than-normal levels of this lignan in the body have been associated with heart disease and breast cancer (23).
Another study in children found that pumpkin seeds may help lower the risk of bladder stones by reducing the amount of calcium in urine (25 ). Bladder stones are similar to kidney stones. They’re formed when certain minerals crystallize inside the bladder, which leads to abdominal discomfort. A couple of studies have shown that pumpkin seed oil can improve symptoms of prostate and urinary disorders (26, 27). These studies also showed that pumpkin seed oil may reduce symptoms of overactive bladder and improve quality of life for men with enlarged prostates.
A study of postmenopausal women also found that pumpkin seed oil may help reduce blood pressure, increase “good” HDL cholesterol and improve menopause symptoms (28). Sunflower seeds may be associated with reduced inflammation in middle-aged and older people, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Bottom line: Eat your daily serving of nuts and seeds to reap protective health benefits ranging from lowered cancer risk to reduced inflammation, cholesterol, and incidents of metabolic disorder like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Types of Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an easy place to start in transitioning to a whole foods diet. Since a daily serving is only a handful (1/4 cup), they’re super convenient to incorporate into your snacks or dishes. The type of seeds and nuts available are so plentiful that you’ll be able to find at least a few that you love. Plus, many varieties are cheap so you won’t be hurting your wallet.
Here is a list of the nuts & seeds you’ll commonly find at most grocery stores:
- Peanuts (we’ll count it as a nut, even if it is a legume)
- Sunflower seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds or kernels
- Sesame seeds
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Macadamia nuts
But don’t forget nut and seed butters like:
- Peanut butter
- Almond butter
- Tahini (sesame seed butter)
Or baking flours like:
- Almond flour
- Flax seed flour
With all this variety to choose from, you should be able to find numerous ways of incorporating nuts and seeds into your meals and start building your diet into a whole foods based way of eating.
What are Whole foods?
Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, and are free from additives or other artificial substances like preservatives, emulsifiers, conditioners and artificial or natural flavors before being consumed.
Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, tubers, and whole grains. Everything else is not a whole food. See my article What are Whole Foods? to get a good understanding of whole foods. For the carnivores out there, I would add that fresh meat in the butcher and seafood sections of grocery stores can supplement a whole foods diet even though they are obviously not plant-based. Same with eggs and milk. The healthiest and most long-lived cultures in the world eat this sort of diet.
Why Whole Foods?
The benefits of whole foods are amazing:
- Cancer prevention
- Beating heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing and reversing diabetes
- Prevention of gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis
- Asthma prevention
- Better digestion
- Autoimmune disorder prevention
- Most sustainable diet for the planet
In the Kitchen for the 7 Day Challenge
During the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge, you’ll want to have a serving of nuts and seeds each day. Try to eat the raw seed or nut rather than grabbing the roasted and salted varieties as our diets are already high enough in salt and the roasting process lowers the nutritional content we’re trying to reap. Similarly, if you love peanut butters and other nut and seed butters, choose ones low in added salt, sugar and oil. The best ones will just include the nut or seed.
While the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge does not require dropping the standard American diet or greatly changing your current way of eating, adopting a mostly whole foods diet during the challenge will reap greater health rewards. If you choose to try more whole foods during the challenge, avoid added sugars and processed foods. Focusing on whole foods should be the center of every meal, making up at least 70% of everything that goes into your mouth.
This will mean passing on processed foods – full of refined carbs, added sugar, salt, processed oils, and additives – which include most boxed meals and kits, frozen meals, heat and serve meals, and fast food. Try to limit your pasta and bread consumption as these are both processed foods. I realize that might be biting off more than you can chew for most people. However, making whole foods the stars of any meal and giving things like pasta or bread a limited supporting role will really help your health.
Why 7 Days?
One week isn’t a large commitment and is easy to plan. Plus you won’t feel overwhelmed by learning a ton of new recipes or feel like you’re completely giving up your eating lifestyle for good – though, hey, if you like the changes and the benefits, please continue!
Seven days are good for dipping your toes into a life of eating more nuts and seeds or starting down a whole foods diet. You will learn new recipes and eating patterns which can help you transition to eating healthier overall. And besides, who doesn’t enjoy a new challenge to get excited about?
Whenever we try something new or try to change habits, we should remind ourselves of a few things:
Firstly, we’ve been doing things a certain way for a while. When it comes to food, we’ve trained our bodies and minds to like what we’re already doing. When we try new foods, we may go into withdrawal from the removal of our usual foods. That and our gut biomes have adapted to our old eating habits and will undergo a shift when our foods change. Most people don’t realize this and think their body is reacting negatively to the new foods when really, it’s mostly withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve ever tried to give up coffee or colas for a week, you know what I’m taking about! The same is definitely true for sugar or refined carbs. Use this week to learn how addicted your body is to your current way of eating. You might find it eye-opening.
Secondly, we are creatures of habit. Don’t expect to like or love all the food recipes. If you’ve never tried something before, try it with an open mind. Think of this week as a way to experience new foods or find new recipes to incorporate into your meal rotation. See it as a fun exercise, not a drag, and you’ll have better results.
Thirdly, when we take on a food challenge, the experience is usually new. The recipes will take longer to organize and prep simply because you haven’t spent years making them. In time the ingredients and recipes become second nature and you can modify them as easily as your current meal rotations. Expect the learning curve rather than be upset by it. Most of the recipes included for the challenge are quick and easy for beginners.
Fourthly, food is culture. If your family and friends have never seen a whole food they didn’t hate, you may feel peer pressure over your new food selections or feel tempted to cheat and eat like normal. Remember that this is only a week-long challenge. If others tell you to cheat or give you grief, you can point out gently:
- Your health issues if you have any
- Any health issues in your family
- That you are trying to alleviate or prevent any health issues
- And that you could really use support since this isn’t easy
Many people if approached this way will be more considerate and helpful, especially if you tell them you don’t expect them to eat like you (some immediate family members will fear any food changes). Accept this and remember that you are the only person who can truly make the changes you want. Respect and love yourself enough to try what you’re wanting to do, no matter what others think.
All this said, we’re human and we get cravings. Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse during the challenge, just continue on with the next meal and be proud for what you do follow. Also, try not to make the challenge impossible by scheduling it around holidays. Only the most willful and possibly masochistic can survive holidays and their associated foods. On the flip side, if you’re trying to give up the excesses of the holidays, by all means, use this challenge as an excuse!
Now onto the nuts and bolts.
How It Works
The 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge is pretty straight-forward. You’ll be consuming the recommended daily serving of nuts and seeds for a week. That’s just a quarter cup of them or basically a handful. To do that:
- Pick a week to do the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge.
- Make room in your pantry and in your mental space for the change.
- Plan out and organize your meals for the week for best results. Design them with your family or friends for added support and team-building if they’re willing.
- Make your grocery list.
- Buy the food.
- Prepare the meals yourself or for best results, with your family. Healthy food habits are teachable moments, as is food preparation. Children can’t learn healthy food habits if not exposed to them or taught the recipes. Cooking together means time together. Make cooking social.
- Eat and enjoy – the more the merrier!
7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge Recipe Suggestions
It’s easiest to enjoy the challenge and keep with it if you include meals you already like that contain nuts and seeds. Love your homemade trail mix full of nuts and seeds? Bust it out this week!
Organize around meals such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. We tend to make the same handful of meals so don’t feel like every single meal for the week must be new and original. That gets expensive and stressful fast because you have to buy a larger variety of food and learn too many new recipes you may not be at all familiar with. Also, why waste any leftovers?
Check out the recommended week-long plan and more general pantry list so you can take the challenge and run with it. Feel free to mix and match however you like to make this challenge your own!
Now onto the week’s meal plan!
7 Day Whole Foods Challenge Meal Planning
In order to incorporate more nuts and seeds into your diet, it’s helpful to focus on each meal of the day and how to easily add in nuts and seeds.
Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to get in your nut and seed requirements for the day. Add a handful of seeds or nuts to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, granola, cereal, pancakes and waffles. Use nut milks to replace milk in your coffee, cereal, or drink them as a beverage (though you’ll get less nutrition than with the whole nut or seed).
Eat a handful of raw, unsalted nuts of your choice or nibble on trail mix or granola bars made of mixed nuts and dried fruit. Snack on dark chocolate bars that contain nuts like almonds, peanuts or pistachios. Have nut butters like peanut butter or tahini on veggies or with whole grain crackers.
Lunch & Dinner
Nuts and seeds shine as ingredients in common dishes. Toss them onto salads or into stir fries, curries, soups and more.
Add nuts and seeds onto your ice cream or bake with them in your cookies, cakes, muffins, etc. Use almond flour or flax seed flour in your baking recipes rather than the usual refined white flour. And don’t forget that nuts and seeds pair well with dark chocolate.
7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge Daily Schedule
Want specific meal suggestions? We’ve got you covered for all meals, including snacks and desserts, for the week.
Breakfast: Yogurt topped with walnuts and grapes
Lunch: Avocado and tomato salad
Dinner: Tilapia tacos; Substitute any white fish
Snacks: Dark chocolate made with almonds, peanuts or pistachios
Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with blueberries, sesame seeds and pumpkin kernels
Lunch: Mediterranean chickpea salad
Dinner: Tomato soup with avocado and cucumber salad
Snacks: Yellow squash dippers and hummus
Breakfast: Banana, peanut butter, coconut milk smoothie; optional add-in: chia seeds
Lunch: Tuna fish and spinach with avocado, tomato and cucumber salad
Snack: Sliced apple with cheese
Dinner: Drunken mussels
Breakfast: Eggs scrambled with spinach, sliced half an avocado on the side
Dinner: Ginger veggie stir fry; Optional add-in: beef, pork, chicken or seafood
Snack: Olives and stuffed peppers from the grocery store olive bar – or anything from the olive bar
Dessert: Pecan-stuffed dates
Breakfast: Fruit bowl of strawberries and banana
Lunch: White bean salad with anchovies; substitute chicken, pork sausage, smoked clams, mussels or oysters
Dinner: Shrimp zucchini linguine
Snack: Peanut butter on whole grain crackers or veggies like celery; substitute tahini or almond butter
Breakfast: Peanut butter and banana toast; substitute tahini or almond butter
Lunch: Lentil soup with avocado and tomato salad
Dinner: Sweet potato gnocchi and grilled salmon
Snack: Olives, cheese and whole-grain crackers
Breakfast: Cheese and egg breakfast tacos; Optional add-in: Ground sausage
Lunch: Red lentil salad with feta
Dinner: Sexy fish stew
Dessert: Peanut butter no bake cookies
If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, feel free to find ones that do! Check out my article 7 Simple & Delicious Ways to Get More Nuts & Seeds Into Your Diet. Additionally, so many recipe resources exist on the internet that you’re bound to find more than you could ever hope to make. One of my favorite sources is allrecipes.com.
In order to cook a whole foods diet, it’s helpful to know how to stock your pantry. This is a general list, so don’t think this is your shopping list for the nuts & seeds challenge. While a few items on this list are not whole foods, the vast majority are and these ingredients can make up a fantastic pantry for eating healthy and deliciously:
Nuts and seeds – walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds (see fuller list in earlier section on Types of Nuts & Seeds)
Nut and seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter and tahini
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Olive, sesame or coconut oil
White or apple vinegar
White cooking wine
Tilapia or cod fillets
Canned or fresh tuna, anchovies, mussels, oysters, clams
Canned or dried white beans, chick peas, lentils, black beans
Fresh cuts of meats (be careful as even ground pork or ground turkey often now includes natural flavors – check the ingredients)
Fresh or canned diced tomatoes
Yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.
Spinach, kale, greens
Nut milks – almond, walnut, cashew milk
Oat or soy milk
Rice, barley, buckwheat, oats, kasha
While fresh and from scratch is best, let’s face it, not everyone has the time or willingness. Here are time savers and substitutions:
- Instant oatmeal and cream of wheat
- Canned beans and vegetables: drain and rinse them though
- Frozen vegetables and fruit
- Frozen fish fillets
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Store-made guacamole, salsa and hummus
A Week of Healthy Eating
And there you have it – everything you need to know to take the 7 Day Nuts & Seeds Challenge! Hopefully you will enjoy the foods and the benefits they quickly bring in terms of better health, energy levels, mental clarity, sleep and digestion, and a range of others. If you enjoy these foods and their benefits, why not permanently include these and other deliciously healthy meals in your routine?
Good luck with the challenge and happy eating!
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