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Marvelous Macadamias for Diabetes

If all that you demand of what you eat is that it is healthy and tastes good, macadamia nuts are a wonderful choice for those of us who have diabetes. But no food is perfect.

Unlike all other nuts, eating macadamia nuts won’t wreck your ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats, which are both polyunsaturated fats. The absolute amount of polyunsaturated fats in even a large amount of macadamias is so low that relative amount need not be a concern. As long as we get a ratio of 1:1 or even twice as much omega 6 and omega 3 in our total diet we are doing fine. We can do that by eliminated from our diet soybean, corn, canola, and cottonseed oils and by eating fatty fish like salmon or sardines or mackerel or by taking fish oil or krill oil capsules.

Unlike almost all other nuts, macadamias are also very low in anti-nutrients, such as lectins and phytic acid. A large amount of anti-nutrients in our diet can make us sick. Anti-nutrients are a common defense that many plants use to protect themselves from being eaten by animals. Another defense is a hard shell, and that is the strategy that the macadamia tree uses. The shell of a macadamia nut is so hard that you need to apply 300 pounds of pressure per square inch to break open the shell, a greater amount than any other nut requires.

Macadamias supply significant amounts of iron, magnesium, and thiamin (vitamin B1). In fact, pine nuts and macadamias have the highest levels of thiamin of all the generally available nuts.

Of all the nuts, only pecans have fewer net carbohydrates than macadamias. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, one ounce has just 3.92 grams of carbs of which 2.4 grams is fiber.

Of all the nuts, macadamia have the highest amount of monounsaturated fats, 59 percent. Many people recommend these as the best fats. Hazelnuts have the second highest level, 46 percent.

If you have never eaten macadamia nuts, you can’t imagine how delicious they are. They have a mild and delicate flavor. According to The Oxford Companion to Food (2006), “Roasting develops their pleasantly sweet flavour.” While that’s undoubtedly true, I am wary of roasting any nuts and prefer them raw.

Macadamias are native to Australia. They are the only Australian plant crop that has ever been commercially developed as a food.

While some of natives of Australia must have long enjoyed eating macadamia nuts, not until the 1850s did they attract the attention of two European botanists, Walter Hill and Ferdinand Von Mueller. They appreciated the beauty of the Macadamia integrifolia and Macadamia tetraphylla trees they found growing in the rainforests of Queensland and named the tree and its nut for their colleague, Dr. John Macadam.

The first Australian macadamia plantation didn’t begin until the 1880s. And not until 1954 with the introduction of mechanised processing did commercial production became viable. Nowadays about 90 percent of the the world’s macadamia nut production comes from Hawaii, where it has become its third most important crop, according to The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, University of California at Berkeley (1992).

But macadamias aren’t quite the perfect food for people with diabetes. I need to warn you about three problems.

1. For me, the biggest problem is that once I start eating macadamias, I find it hard to stop before I have eaten too much. I think that once ounce of them, which is about 25 pieces and has 204 calories, should be enough for one day. The only way I can control this craving is to buy only an ounce at a time.

2. The calories in macadamias are the second biggest problem, unless you are one of those people who need to gain weight. No other nut has more calories. Per 100 grams, macadamias have 718 calories, followed closely by pecans at 691.

3. The third problem, the high cost of macadamias, bothers me less. If I ate a lot of them and didn’t think that good food was essential for my health, I would be more concerned. Macadamias are expensive because the demand still exceeds the supply, says the Wellness Encyclopedia. Fortunately, new producers are coming to market, including South Africa, which is where Whole Foods sources them lately.

I don’t let these drawbacks stop me from eating macadamia nuts. While they are great nuts, they aren’t perfect. So I am ever mindful of the wisdom that Voltaire expressed many years ago that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • patricia at

    thanks; i’ve been wondering about macadamias. do you have any info on hemp seeds and hemp oil?

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Patricia,

      That’s a good question. But, no, I haven’t looked into hemp seeds and oil to make any knowledgeable comment about them. Sorry!