It’s hard not to love nuts – I certainly do, and I eat them just about every day. They’re portable, convenient, delicious and deliver a solid dose of nutritional goodies that help your body thrive. Eating more nuts is one simple, virtually effortless healthy habit that I encourage everyone (everyone who isn’t allergic, that is) to indulge in.
Nuts are a food that, nutritionally speaking, punches above its weight (and small size), one of nature’s most often overlooked superfoods! Whether you’re trying to snack smarter or add more flavor and texture to your salads, nuts are always a great idea. Here’s where to start:
Your heart’s nuts for nuts.
A lot of folks avoid nuts because they wrongly fear the fats tucked inside when, in fact, those healthy fats support heart health. To be clear, a 1-ounce serving of nuts every day will not necessarilly make you fat, but instead provide protein, fiber, antioxidants and fats that are actually good for your heart. To get a better understanding of the serving sizes, check out the stats later in this post.
Shop smart and keep it simple.
To get the most benefit from nuts of all kinds, keep it simple, as in, choose ones that are raw, unroasted, unsalted, and organic. However, if you prefer your nuts roasted, better to roast them yourself to help preserve their nutrients and keep processing down to a minimum. The commercially roasted nuts usually make use of problematic industrial seed oils, so I’d say a big ‘no, thanks!’ to that. Remember too, any nuts that are coated in yoghurt, dusted with sugar, ‘honey-roasted,’ or dipped in chocolate are, in effect, candy, so give those versions a hard pass as well.
Chop ‘em, blend ‘em, puree ‘em.
If you don’t often eat nuts, or are new to the idea of eating them on the regular, one easy way to get started is by slipping them to smoothies. Once blended, you’ll hardly know they’re there. Or, you can pulse them in a food processor, chopping them up into tasty toppers for oatmeal, salads and fruit. And if you are a DIY-er, you can easily process your faves into your own artisanal nut butters, combining several different types of nuts into your own unique blend. (Almond-walnut butter, anyone?)
All nut butters are not created equal.
If store-bought nut butters are more your speed, read labels carefully. Always choose the full fat versions (never ‘reduced fat’) with the fewest ingredients, think no more than 2 or 3. Ideally, you should be looking at just nuts, preferably organic, and possibly with a pinch of salt and/or a touch of coconut oil. You also want nut butters that require refrigeration after opening – a big clue that your jar’s ingredients are just the good stuff with few if any of the preservatives and additives that make other versions ‘shelf-stable’ indefinitely.
Also keep in mind that if the label lists palm oil, honey, molasses, agave, sugar, etc., leave it on the shelf. Same goes for the ‘no-stir’ nut-butters which, in order to make them creamy and spreadable without stirring, tend to be loaded with hydrogenated vegetable oils — truly a nutritional no-go.
Get to know the ‘big nutrition’ nuts.
Granted everyone has their favorites when it comes to taste, but some nuts offer more nutritional bang for the buck so let’s focus on the biggies. From a strictly nutritional standpoint, the winners are: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Here’s what they’ve got in store for you:
These nuts are extremely nutrient-dense with benefits that everyone can use. They are known to be helpful in helping to tame inflammation, lower cholesterol and support heart and colon health – all major pluses in my book. They’ve got protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, and folic acid. And because they also contain pain-blocking compounds, they can help take the edge off a headache. A serving size of just one ounce contains 23 almonds, certainly enough to keep you busy snacking for a while.
2) BRAZIL NUTS
Just one Brazil nut provides a bit more than a day’s worth of selenium, which contributes to thyroid health and offers some protection against prostate and breast cancer. All good, but a small serving is all that’s needed, so no need to overdo it on this little powerhouse – a little goes a long way. A typical 1-ounce serving has six nuts and enjoy all at one sitting if you like them, but you only need one actual nut, every other day or so to get the full benefits.
Cashews come complete with a payload of nutrients, including iron, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B, zinc, folic acid, vitamin E and omega-3s – so keep them high on your list. In addition to their delicious creamy taste, cashews help make your heart happy by delivering a dose of monounsaturated fats, which help tame bad cholesterol. Although botanically-speaking, ‘cashew nuts’ are technically seeds, we don’t mind, particularly when a 1-ounce serving contains 18 of them to enjoy.
Which nutrients are packed in a one-ounce (21 nuts!) serving of hazelnuts? Good health essentials like vitamin E, folate, B vitamins, arginine, fiber, protein, and potassium. Studies have shown they can help curb symptoms of depression and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping to tame inflammation and delivering antioxidants that strengthen blood vessels.
When most people think of pecans, it’s usually as the marquee item in a brown sugar and molasses-packed pie. What most people don’t realize is that pecans taste great without all that sugar and are incredibly healthy little treats. In addition to housing more than 19 vitamins and minerals, pecans contain protein, cholesterol-lowering compounds, antioxidants, and plant sterols that can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and support prostate health – in all a pretty powerful package! A 1-ounce serving equals a generous 19 nut halves, making them an excellent snack choice for pre- or post-workout snack.
In addition to being fun to crack open and eat, pistachios are loaded with nutrition. In addition to being a great source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, they’re also rich in potassium and plant sterols, so they get cracking. Another bonus? Pistachios are also thought to be beneficial for lowering blood pressure and cancer risk. If you’re a pistachio fan, there’s more good news. A one ounce serving of pistachios will net you a generous 50-nut handful. Do yourself a favor though, make yours the unsalted kind to sidestep all that added sodium.
I hate to pick favorites in the nut world, but I’ll admit it, walnuts are my favorite and truly top of the heap when it comes to taste and nutrition. They really are the total package. They are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids so that’s good news for your brain. You’ll get ellagic acid to help boost immunity, and alpha-linoleic acid to help protect against heart, disease, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll also get a bit of CoQ10, for additional heart and brain health protection. Not bad for a funny looking little nut with a tough shell, huh? What’s in a one-ounce serving? 12-14 halves, so chomp away!