If you’re looking for a healthy snack that’s packed with nutrients, fiber, and healthy fat, there’s no better food than nuts. There are so many varieties to choose from as well as many ways to prepare meals and snacks using them as ingredients.
Nuts are actually a seed surrounded by a hard, inedible shell. Nuts are very important to plants – they ensure the plant will be able to reproduce – so they contain lots of nutrients and healthy fats that nurture it so it’ll sprout into a new plant. We get to enjoy all of those nutrients when we eat them, making them into tiny bites that pack a big nutritional punch.
In the past, you may have avoided snacking or cooking with nuts because of their high fat content. The “fat-free” craze of the past decade has thrown all fats under one negative umbrella. Yes, nuts are high in fats (and therefore calories), but the fats they contain are the healthy varieties; the ones doctors are now telling you to eat more of. These are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, in place of the saturated fats found in animal products.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been shown to reduce the levels of “bad” blood cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids, which you’ve likely read so much about lately, is a type of polyunsaturated fat that has been shown to raise the levels of “good” blood cholesterol.
Types of Nuts
The best part about the nut family is the numerous options you have. Each type of nut has its own flavor and nutritional content.
- Almonds in their raw form have a chewy texture and mild flavor. A one-ounce serving has more calcium than any other nut, and contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
- Cashews have a creamy, smooth texture and are packed with many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and K, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc. It is also extremely rich in copper, which aids in building strong tissues, maintaining blood volume and producing energy in your cells.
- Hazelnuts have a bitter mahogany skin, and once that is removed it becomes a sweet nut, which is why Nutella has such a sweet flavor. This nut is filled with manganese, copper and vitamin E.
- Pecans are often used in pies can candies because of their rich, creamy, buttery taste. This “dessert” contains more than 19 vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A and E, folic acid, calcium, and magnesium.
- Pistachios have a crunchy and nutty flavor that tastes good on its own or added to dishes. This nut is filled with fiber, protein and vitamin B6.
- Walnuts taste a little bitter, but it’s a mild bitterness. Once they are toasted, the bitter taste goes away. This nut is the only type of nut that contains essential omega-3 fatty acid.
Peanuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, tiger nuts, soy nuts, and macadamia nuts are also part of the nut family.
6 Nutty Suggestions
There are many kinds of nuts and so many ways to enjoy them. Here are a few of my favorite ways:
- Choose natural almond butter and spread on top of apple slices.
- Crush toasted hazelnuts and mix them into your Greek yogurt and sweeten with honey.
- Add chopped walnuts into chicken salad.
- Mix in slivered slices of almonds with sautéed asparagus for a delicious side dish.
- Pack a small bag of unsalted cashews to have as a snack during the day.
- Sprinkle crushed pecans over a salad.
Remember, because nuts are high in fat, they’re also high in calories so enjoy them in moderation. They should replace other high-fat foods that are less nutrient dense. Studies show that people who snack on nuts over other foods are more likely to maintain a normal body weight and have less incidence of cardiovascular disease. So, go nuts!
Your turn to take action: How will you incorporate nuts into your snacks and meals? Let me know in the comments below!