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Introduction

Whether you’ve been reading The Food Network or skimming your local health food market, you may have come across baru or Barùkas nuts. Like Brazil nuts, these nuts are high in protein, fiber, iron, potassium, and many other micronutrients (1). These powerhouses of nutrients also have many health benefits and are high in a variety of nutrients that many of us may be running low on. Baru nuts come from the Dipteryx alata tree, which is native to Brazil. Covered in a dark brown thin shell, the baru nut is a rich, somewhat sweet, large edible nut (2).

Health benefits of baru nuts

Baru nut flour could be used to reduce the fat content of bakery desserts

Traditional cupcakes contain an abundance of fat in the form of butter, lard, or vegetable oil. Baru nut flour may be used instead of traditional wheat flour to increase the fiber and decrease the fat content of baked desserts (3, 4). In a recent study examining the effect of using a blend of baru nut flour and wheat flour, using the blend instead of traditional wheat flour alone resulted in a formulation that, while not as ideal as wheat flour alone, was higher in nutrients and lower in fat than wheat flour (5). The authors believe it may be possible to begin to substitute baru nut flour for wheat flour in bakery preparations, resulting in improved nutritional content, and lower fat.

Phenolic compounds in baru nuts could combat oxidative diseases

An unfortunate byproduct of our metabolism is the production of reactive oxygen species, which can damage DNA and result in many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Phenolic compounds can scavenge and take up these reactive oxygen species, stopping them from going on to wreak havoc on our bodies. Baru nuts with peels have a high level of phenolic compounds (antioxidants), namely catechin, ferulic acid, and epicatechin (6). In a study using Wistar rats, those rats fed a formulation of baru nut with their regular food had lower oxidative stress and higher antioxidant activity (7). The baru nut addition seemed to protect against iron-induced oxidative stress, and authors suggest it may be phytic acid and other phenolic compounds responsible for this effect. These compounds could reduce the prevalence of oxidative disorders, one nut at a time.

Studies indicate that baru nut flour could reduce weight gain and obesity

When fed to obese mice, baru flour showed a reduction in adipose fat (which makes up belly fat and abdominal weight), visceral fat (found just below the skin), and reduced weight gain. The obese mice even had lower blood glucose (sugar) and triglyceride (fat) levels, compared to mice fed regular food (8). In one of the few human studies looking at this effect, participants consuming baru nuts were found to have lower lipoprotein levels in their blood. They reduced abdominal fat after eight weeks of treatment (9). While these are preliminary studies, they suggest that baru flour could be one of many keys to reducing the current obesity epidemic sweeping the globe.

A potential mechanism of baru nuts’ ability to control weight has been identified as Glutathione Peroxidase (10). Normally, glutathione peroxidase is an antioxidant enzyme, reducing those free radicals from metabolism. However, it has been shown to have some effects on weight loss and obesity, though these remain largely a mystery. Researchers suggest that baru nuts can increase glutathione peroxidase levels, reducing weight, but more studies are needed to solidify and confirm this theory.

The fat found in baru nuts can achieve the same functional properties as unhealthy cooking oils

Baru nuts have become a desirable source of healthy fats in cooking and baking, similar to the soybean several years ago. Preliminary results suggest that baru nut oil may achieve similar functional properties as vegetable and animal proteins while coming in at a lower cost and bringing several healthy components (like fiber and minerals) with it (11). Another potential application of baru nuts is protein isolate, similar to whey and pea protein isolate. If you want to read more about pea protein, check out the “Benefits of Pea Proteins.” This suggests another potential alternative to whey and other protein isolates.

Baru nut consumption could reduce high cholesterol naturally

A recent human study aimed to show the effect of baru nuts (also called baru almonds) on adults with mildly high cholesterol. In this study, 20g a day of baru nuts improved high serum lipids (a cholesterol measure) (12). While the researchers didn’t find any significant changes in oxidation markers to show exactly how the baru nut is having this effect, it does suggest that baru nuts may be a worthwhile addition for those struggling with mildly high cholesterol levels.

Baru nuts are high in pure proteins

We consider “high protein” foods that are high in fat, preservatives, and sugar. From your pepperoni sticks to the humble hamburger, there are a host of artificial ingredients and additional fat that we should avoid eating regularly. Baru nuts have a unique protein mixture of albumin, globulin, prolamin, and glutelin (13). These are all pure protein sources that can be broken down into the amino acids that will be rebuilt into muscles, organs, and other vital body systems. This means they may be healthier options than other protein sources, particularly for health maintenance and muscle building.

Processing of baru nuts

Like all nuts (eaten raw or in cooked recipes), baru nuts undergo some processing at high pressures and temperatures, then are packed and sealed and potentially cooked before consumption. Amid all of these wonderful qualities of baru nuts, including phenols, enzymes, and other compounds, which are damaged by heat and processing? Are these health benefits intact after being cooked or stored under pressure?

Researchers determined the effect of the drying process (which is common for baru nuts among many others) on the physicochemical and mineral composition of baru nuts. The processing of nuts typically reaches high temperatures, and the researchers tried drying the nuts at 65° and 105° for 30 minutes to mimic the processing these nuts typically undergo before being packaged and hitting the shelves. They found that this heating process did not change the nuts’ composition, quality, or mineral content, specifically looking at levels of protein, fiber, lipids, magnesium, and other compounds after drying (14). This suggests that the processing of nuts is taken into consideration when nutrient content is developed for packaging and nutritional information production. Lucky for us, it seems many of these healthy constituents are preserved during the drying process!

A note on conservation and sustainability

Baru nuts are traditionally grown and harvested in Brazil, which has suffered massive agricultural and foliage losses in recent decades (15). One of several programs aimed to reduce this negative effect of sales of baru and other Brazilian nuts is WWF-Brazil’s Cerrado Pantanal Program, which is aimed at promoting biodiversity and implementing Protected Areas, which are reserved and protected from economic development. The program involves producers, buyers, retailers, cooperative associates, chefs, and other representatives in the baru nut chain, to ensure the practices of growing, selling, and purchasing them is kept sustainable and responsible.

 The Cerrado region, where baru nuts are grown and cultivated, is home to over 1,600 species of mammals, birds, and reptiles (that represents 5% of the world’s flora and 33% of national biodiversity), many of which are endangered (16). Baru nuts aside, this region of the world needs our help to remain preserved. Barùkas brand of baru nuts plants one new Baruzeiro tree for every 5 pounds of nuts sold, with a long term goal of 20 million trees planted and is one of several campaigns to save the Brazilian biosphere through baru nut sales (17). With more thoughtful purchasing and growing of this nut, perhaps we can limit the exploitation and damage currently happening in Brazil (18, 19)

In conclusion

Baru nuts are a great source of protein on the go, work, or at home. Instead of reaching for our normal protein sources like high-fat meats and cheeses, reach for a bag of baru nuts (which, if not found at your local grocer, can likely be found in health food stores in addition to online sources). Make sure you look for ethically and sustainably grown and harvested baru nuts. These nuts are also gluten-free, vegan, and paleo-friendly (but make sure you read each packet you buy, just to be safe). Usually roasted, these nuts taste a bit like peanuts and cashews but are described as having a hint of rich cocoa taste and making an excellent addition to any meal. However, a few baru nuts go a long way, containing 155 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein in just three tablespoons (and that isn’t much since these nuts are large three tablespoons). Take a handful, and avoid mindless snacking with these powerhouses of nutrition, and enjoy your newfound source of healthy, wholesome protein today!

Nuts are a healthy food; check out “The World’s Healthiest Nuts.”

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