The nutty secret Italians use to look and feel great

Many Italian towns have budding reputations as blue zones… places where inhabitants live unusually long and healthy lives.

Most often their incredible health and longevity is attributed to a healthy Mediterranean-styled diet, including a little wine, fish, very little meat and lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

But the citizens of Sarzana, a town on the Italian Riviera, hold tight to another healthy secret–and it’s celebrated just before Easter each year.

It’s a tiny brown superfood that’s native to their region…

You may know it as one of the main ingredients in the ever-popular Nutella spread. Or it might flavor your morning coffee.

But this tasty treat has a long history of pleasing Italian taste buds.

It seems that before the city of Sarzana was founded, the area around it was covered with the trees that bore this food, a nutritious and inexpensive snack to be enjoyed on long winter evenings.

Whatever was left when Palm Sunday arrived was given to girlfriends and children in the form of necklaces.

That custom persists today and can be seen during the annual Fierra della Nocciola, or Hazelnut Fair.

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Little brown balls of nutrition

Inside those tiny brown balls, hazelnuts pack a load of health benefits. They are nutrient-rich and full of antioxidants. One ounce (about 21 nuts) has 8 percent of the daily recommended intake of protein. Then come the vitamins and minerals…

Looking at the recommended daily intake for important minerals, that 1-oz. serving of hazelnuts weighs in big-time:

  • 12 percent for magnesium
  • 24 percent for copper
  • 87 percent for manganese
  • 8 percent for phosphorus
  • 7 percent for iron

Copper and phosphorus are two nutrients we don’t think about much, but that are crucial to our health. Copper is as important as iron. Together, these two minerals work to produce red blood cells. Phosphorus is also a team player, working with calcium to strengthen bones. It also plays a key role in protein production, which affects our energy.

The biggest win hazelnuts offer in the vitamin department comes with a whopping 21 percent RDA of vitamin E, the all-important vitamin that helps balance cholesterol and fight the inflammation that causes conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, to name a few.

Guardians against disease

Hazelnuts have an abundance of antioxidants properties, some in the form of phenolic compounds proven to help lower cholesterol and inflammation.

In a month-long study, 21 people with high cholesterol ate a diet where 18-20 percent of their daily calories came from hazelnuts. The results showed that cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL levels were reduced. Other studies have produced similar results.

Hazelnuts may also offer protection from cancer, too…

That’s because, as nuts go, they have the highest concentration of a group of antioxidants known as proanthocyanidins. Animal studies have linked this antioxidant group to the prevention of various cancers. Other test tube studies suggest their use in treating breast, liver and cervical cancer.

Does you blood sugar give you fits? Oleic acid, the main fatty acid in hazels, has been shown to have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity. In addition, when fifty people with metabolic syndrome were given a daily mixed nut snack that included 7.5g of hazelnuts, fasting insulin levels showed a significant reduction.

And, they help you look good!

You can’t think of Italians without the eternally beautiful Sophia Loren coming to mind. Is it just coincidence that one of her favorite dishes was a classic Italian springtime treat — shaved asparagus, hazelnut and lemon salad?

Here are a few ways hazelnuts can help you look great…

Skin. The vitamin E in hazelnuts offers protection from the free radicals that can cause dry, wrinkled, prematurely-old skin. In fact, you can crush a teaspoon of roasted hazels, mix it with ½ teaspoon coffee crystals and ½ teaspoon sugar in coconut oil and use it as a fragrant, moisturizing facial scrub!

Sunscreen. Hazelnut carrier oil is a natural emollient (skin softener), that offers natural sunscreen protection to SPF 15 (not enough for a day at the beach, but great for minimal daily sun exposure and moisturizing).

Hair. Add 2 Tbsps. finely powdered hazelnuts to 2 eggs and beat well. Apply the mixture to your dry hair and scalp and leave on for 20 minutes, then shampoo. This treatment will help keep dry hair conditioned and prevent split ends.

So if all these health and beauty reasons aren’t enough to convince you to add hazelnuts to your diet, I’m not sure what is. But maybe you need a little extra prodding… so let me show you how easy it is to enjoy hazelnuts. You can…

  • Eat a handful raw or roast and munch between meals.
  • Chop and sprinkle on breakfast cereal.
  • Dry roast and powder hazels and mix with your favorite protein powder.
  • Mix with berries as a snack or in muffins (use blueberries for double the anti-cancer, anti-diabetes power.
  • Add to stir fry dishes.

Just don’t overdo as hazelnuts are a high-calorie nut. An ounce, or 21 nuts, has about 178 calories, something to be aware of if you’re watching your weight.

Nut allergies

People with birch pollen allergies are often allergic to hazelnuts as well. Symptoms occur within two to three hours of eating or handling hazels, and may include:

  • Hives or eczema
  • Watery, itchy, red, sore or swollen eyes
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Wheezing, coughing or runny nose
  • Swelling of lips, tongue or face
  • Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction and a medical emergency

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.