Going Nuts Over Nuts
Remember when we were told not to eat nuts too often because they were high in fat? Well, they are high in fat, but it turns out--it is the good, heath-healthy fats, including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Whether you eat them as a snack or use them as an ingredient in recipes, nuts are a good source of fiber, protein, fat, and important minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and selenium. Some nuts even contain vitamin E and folate.
A single serving (about a handful, or from 1.5 to 3 oz, or about 1/4 to 1/3 cup) of nuts can have 20 grams or more of fat and about 180-200 calories. Research supports that we do not need to worry about the extra calories, and especially if we are eating them in place of other sources of animal fats. For example, sources of animal fats include butter, margarine, sauces, gravies, dips, commercial salad dressings, sour cream, cream cheese, and mayonnaise/Miracle Whip.
Experts believe nuts can “neutralize” cell-damaging free radicals. Eating a variety is the key. Try raw, toasted, or roasted but go easy on added salt. The best nuts for the heart are walnuts because of their high content of omega 3 fatty acids which improve lipid levels. A bonus for walnuts is their ability to improve mood by working to help maintain healthy brain levels of serotonin, the happy chemical.
Macadamia nuts contain a high content of monounsaturated fats which also improve lipid levels. Peanuts have a high content of folate which lowers homocysteine, an amino acid that damages arteries and increases the risk of heart disease. A bonus for peanuts is their content of L-arginine, another amino acid that works to improve circulation and may work to inhibit fatty build-up. Don’t forget pistachios for their ability to relax red blood vessels and allow blood to circulate with less force.
Bone health is most affected by almonds because of their high content of calcium and magnesium. Almonds provide a plus due to their effect on blood pressure. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium are called the heart minerals and control the relaxation and contraction of blood vessels and can help control blood pressure.
Brazil nuts are great for the prostate because of their high content of selenium and vitamin E. Selenium improves the ability of the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells in the prostate, and vitamin E is an antioxidant that also has been linked to reduced cancer risk. But be careful; too much selenium can be harmful, so we only need one to two Brazil nuts per day--only one if you take a multivitamin with selenium.
Our eyes can greatly benefit from pecans because they are a rich source of antioxidants which can reduce the risk of macular degeneration by destroying free radicals. A double bonus for pecans is their rich source of Vitamin E which helps inhibit artery wall build-up and their content of phytosterols which help to lower cholesterol levels.
Add nuts to salads, pasta, entrée, and vegetable dishes. Toss in some when baking breads and muffins by blending right into the batter or sprinkling on top before baking. Combine fresh or dried fruit with nuts for a great snack. Nuts can fill in the energy, vitamin, or mineral gap due to missed or hurried meals. And they are just a great pick-me-up any time of the day. So, don’t be afraid to “go a little nuts” over nuts!