Go Nuts for these Nutritional Superstars

Help your heart with these delicious tree-treats.

| May/June 2005

  • Rick Wetherbee

For years, many Americans avoided eating almonds, walnuts, pecans and all the other tasty nuts we were crazy about. We were tempted, but nuts’ high-fat, high-calorie reputation made us disdain their charms. As it turns out, we were wrong. Now these dietary outcasts are earning accolades as the nutritional powerhouses they have always been. Nutrient-rich sources of energy, nuts are high in dietary fiber, plant protein, vitamin E (which may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s) and B vitamins, plus such minerals as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and potassium. As a bonus, nuts have zero cholesterol.

Nuts contain a host of heart-healthy oils — a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — that have earned them a place in the healthy fat category, along with other notables like olive oil and salmon. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the following package label as a qualified health claim for nuts: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Don’t Go Overboard

Ounce for ounce, nuts do contain a healthy amount of calories (about 160 to 180 calories an ounce), so the key is to eat a handful, not a whole can. Nuts, including almonds, walnuts and pecans, have been shown to lower blood cholesterol, and eating just five ounces of nuts per week has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 to 50 percent. So you can still reap the health benefits and keep calories in check by eating an ounce a day, which is equal to a handful, or about 1/4 cup.

Remember to substitute nuts for less healthy fats in your daily diet. For example, substitute equal amounts of nut butter in place of butter, margarine, cream cheese or mayonnaise. (To make your own nut butter, simply process nuts in a food processor or electric blender — pulsing on and off at five-second intervals — until the nuts turn into a buttery paste.) Or, use an equal amount of chopped nuts in place of cheese on a salad, sandwich, vegetables or a casserole dish.

Once you buy nuts, it’s important to preserve their fresh flavor. Once they turn rancid, nuts become bitter and oily tasting. (If those you’ve just bought smell “off,” take them back. Life is too short for badly flavored nuts.) Raw, unshelled nuts store for up to a year when kept in a cool, dry place, or even longer when stored in an airtight container in the freezer. You can store shelled nuts in an airtight container for up to six months in the refrigerator or up to a year in the freezer. If you store them in a cool, dry place at room temperature, they’ll taste fine for up to four months.

The Best Nut Varieties

Whether you choose nuts shelled or in the shell; raw or roasted; salted or plain; or whole, chopped or slivered, knowing how to use them beyond just munching a handful may push your culinary limits. Here’s help cracking the case on nut characteristics and a variety of healthy uses.

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