If you’ve perused through the produce section of your local grocery store this holiday season, you’ve probably seen the traditional display of assorted nuts. Studies have shown that cracking open a nut is worth the effort. Nuts are often avoided because of their fat content. Tree nuts, however, contain beneficial unsaturated fats (both mono and polyunsaturated), as well as protein and fiber.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture now allows for a claim on six nuts: “Scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces per day of peanuts and certain tree nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Keep in mind that the fat in nuts is healthy, but nuts are also high in calories, and a daily limit of 1 or 2 ounces is recommended for most people. Avoid overly salted nuts and the honey glazed choices are these are obviously higher in sodium and calories. Oil roasted nuts have about 10 percent more calories than dry roasted, and dry roasted don’t have any additional fat. Blanched nuts have the skin removed.
Like most other plant foods, nuts are a good source of antioxidants. On average, 10-20 percent of the calories in nuts come from protein. A one ounce serving provides 1-4 grams of fiber depending on the nut.
Nuts are promoted as helping to reduce blood pressure, keeping the heart healthy and decreasing the effects of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can increase the chance of other medical problems. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2008 showed how the addition of nuts can be beneficial in helping to manage metabolic syndrome. At the beginning of the study, 61.4 percent of the participants were considered to have metabolic syndrome. The participants were divided into three groups. The researchers educated one group about consuming a low-fat diet and explained to the other two groups the principals of a diet high in cereals, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, moderate intake of fish and alcohol and a low intake of meats and sweets – often called the Mediterranean Diet. One of the Mediterranean diet groups was given a liter of extra-virgin olive oil each week and the other group was given 30 grams of mixed nuts (one-half walnuts, one-quarter almonds, and one-quarter hazelnuts) per day.
After one year, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome decreased by 13.7 percent in the nut group, 6.7 percent in the olive oil group and 2 percent in the control group. Participants’ weight did not change over the one-year period. However, the number of individuals with large waist circumference, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure significantly decreased in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group compared with the control group.
Each type of nut may have its own health benefits so it is good to eat assorted nuts. Walnuts have almost twice as many antioxidants as any other commonly consumed nuts, including peanuts, pistachios, cashews and pecans. Coming in second as an antioxidant choice is the pecan. Peanuts (actually a legume, not a nut) contain the B-vitamin folate not often found in nuts. Peanuts also contain the flavonoid resveratrol, also found in red grapes and red wine (although peanuts contain a lot less). Pistachios are great sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoid antioxidants that accumulate in the retinas of our eyes. Pistachios also have the most vitamin A, beta-carotene and potassium. Almonds are considered the healthiest, most nutritious nuts of the USDA chosen six. They have the most vitamin E and fiber and are also a good source of potassium.
A serving of nuts is about ⅓ cup, or about an ounce, and is equal to about:
8-10 Brazil nuts
15-20 pecan halves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
70 pistachios in shells
10 whole walnuts
For a last minute gift or a quick snack to take along to a party try this recipe for Almonds Mocha from The Almond Board of California.
6 Tbls. sugar
2 Tbls. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbls. instant coffee granules
1 egg white
2 cups whole natural almonds
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In container of electric blender, combine all ingredients except egg white and almonds. Blend 30 seconds, pulsing on and off; set aside. In large bowl, whisk egg white until opaque and frothy. Add almonds; toss to coat. Add sugar mixture; toss gently to coat evenly. Oil, or coat a baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray. Arrange almonds on baking sheet in single layer. Bake in center of oven 15 minutes. Gently toss almonds and arrange again in single layer. Continue to bake 15 minutes longer; toss gently. Turn off oven. Leave almonds in oven with door ajar 15 minutes. Remove from oven; cool completely. Store in airtight container up to two weeks.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.