We often hear people say they avoid nuts because they are "too high in fat" or "have too many calories."
Nut lovers rejoice!
Enjoyed in moderation, nuts are loaded with nutrition including fiber, protein, healthy fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Plus, they each have their own unique flavor and texture and are so versatile to enjoy as a snack or in a wide variety of REAL food meals.
What if we told you eating 5 or more servings of nuts per week could lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 14% and lower your risk of coronary artery disease by 20%? That's exactly what research shows, not to mention an inverse relationship between nut consumption and stroke risk.
Fats. Yes, nuts do have a high fat content...as much as 90% of the calories of some nuts comes from fat. The fat content of nuts is mostly unsaturated fats, which we know are beneficial in the prevention of coronary artery disease and in lowering LDL cholesterol. Many nuts - especially walnuts - are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which also provide many health benefits.
Protein and Fiber. A handful of nuts contains between 3 grams and 7 grams of protein and between 2 grams and 4 grams of fiber. Among the many benefits of protein and fiber is they help you feel full longer.
More nutrients! Nuts are also loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals:
- Almonds are a great source of calcium and Vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant).
- Brazil nuts are a fantastic source of selenium, which helps prevent certain types of cancer, plays an important role in thyroid health and helps enhance our immune systems. Just 1 brazil nut per day provides 100% of the recommendation daily amount of selenium. (It's important to not overdo it, as selenium toxicity can occur if eaten in large quantities over a long period of time.)
- Cashews are a great source of iron and zinc.
- Hazelnuts provide a good amount of Vitamin E and folate.
- Nuts are also a great way to boost your intake of potassium, especially almonds and pistachios.
What is a healthy serving?
Here is a table to help you visualize how many nuts are in a healthy serving. For nut butters, think of a serving as 2 Tbsp (about the size of 2 thumbs). If you want to increase your consumption of nuts, it's important to use them to REPLACE calories from less healthy foods (foods like chips, enriched flour breads or croutons).
Keep in mind, not all nuts are created equal.
Raw nuts are always best. This means ONE ingredient, such as "Almonds" or "Pecans" or "Walnuts."
As we all know, many nuts are coated with salt, sugar, oils, chocolate or a variety of other ingredients. Some varieties (like the one pictured on the right) have over 3 tsp of added sugar...in just one handful. Sometimes, nuts are incorporated into "blends" with other less healthy ingredients. As you might guess, this can significantly affect their nutritional benefit.
If you are buying roasted nuts, be sure to look at the ingredient labels. You will notice many nuts are roasted in less healthy oils like cottonseed oil.
It is better to opt for nuts that are "dry roasted" (without oil). We love to buy raw nuts, and then toast them in a skillet or in the oven for a few minutes to give them an extra crunch and really bring out their flavor.
How do you store nuts?
It can be most cost effective to buy raw nuts in bulk. And, it is best to store them in a cool, dark place to keep the fats from going rancid. We store ours in the refrigerator, and you can also store them in the freezer to extend their freshness even longer. This is especially important for toasted nuts, as the heat prompts the oils to begin oxidizing and will go rancid more quickly. Use them immediately or keep them in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week or two.
Now for the fun part!
In addition to enjoying nuts as a healthy snack, we literally have hundreds of recipes on Eat REAL America to help you incorporate a healthy daily serving of nuts into your routine. Here are just a few ideas:
- Crunchy Crust: use nuts as a flavor loaded crust for your meat, such as the Almond Crusted Pork Tenderloin or the Hazelnut Crusted Trout or the Pistachio Chicken Sliders.
- Season Your Own! Mix your favorite nuts and seeds with some simple seasonings like in the Spiced Mixed Nuts or Birdseed Snack Mix.
- Go nuts in your granola: incorporate nuts into your favorite store-bought or homemade granola.
- Toast them! Toast nuts for a few minutes in a dry skillet (until they become fragrant) and add them to your salads.
- Crazy for Cashews! Make a cashew cream to incorporate into a variety of meals like the Sweet Potato Collard Green Wraps or the Slow Cooker Vegetable Chili. You can even use cashews for frosting in the Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake!
- Sweets! Use nuts as the base for some delicious sweet treats like the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups or the Strawberry Pie.
- Dessert Topping: you can also use nuts in the toppings for other sweet treats like the Everyday Fruit Crisp or the Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie.
- Cookies and Bars! Incorporate nuts into even more sweet treats like the Smarty Pants Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies or the Harvest Pumpkin Bars.
- Breakfast of Champions: combine oats and nuts for breakfast...everything from overnight oats to Baked Pineapple Oatmeal and Baked Oatmeal Cups.
- Homemade Bread: add a delicious crunchy texture to homemade bread such as in the Cranberry Walnut Rustic Bread.
- Mix it up in pesto! You can use a variety of nuts when making homemade pesto.
- Fantastic crunchy addition: nuts add the perfect flavor and crunch to stir fry meals.
- Energy Bites: use nuts in your nutrient-packed energy bites like the Chocolate Chia Energy Bites or the Lemon Blueberry Bites.
- The perfect pair! Combine nuts with a good quality dark chocolate like in the Dark Chocolate Bark.
- Endless possibilities! Use nuts as the ideal finishing touch to a wide variety of savory dishes...everything from Cinnamon Maple Roasted Winter Squash to Chicken Curry Salad to the Strip Steak Over Shaved Brussels Sprouts...and so much more!
See if you can incorporate five servings of nuts into your routine this week.
Then, please share with us...what are your favorites?