I have somewhat of an obsession with nuts and nut butters…almonds, peanuts (though these are technically legumes, not nuts), pistachios, walnuts…and the occasional cashew thrown in here and there. M thinks it’s quite funny how I have to have peanut or almond butter with my breakfast every day – either on my oatmeal, in my cereal, on toast or on a banana. He doesn’t have any though (which is completely unfathomable to me…but I’m working on a reform). I also typically throw a handful of nuts on my cereal, in my yogurt or on my oatmeal in the morning, and the nibble on a few after lunch or as part of a snack. They’re just so satisfying…not to mention tasty and incredibly nutritious.
Many people avoid nuts because they fear the fat content, but the fats in nuts are actually very healthy since they are primarily unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated) and can aid in reducing the levels of “bad” cholesterol – LDL cholesterol in our blood, when used in place of saturated fats that are found in animal and dairy products.
Nuts also contain many other antioxidants and nutrients, and a brief description of some of my favorites is provided below:
Almonds – These nuts are not only a good source of monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, but they are also a rich source of the vitamins E (an antioxidant) and B2, and the minerals manganese, magnesium, copper, tryptophan and phosphorous. Almonds are also a good source of fiber and protein, and studies have shown that just a handful of almonds a day, perhaps as a snack in between meals, can help individuals maintain a healthy diet. The healthy fats, protein and fiber in these nuts can keep you satisfied in between meals and reduce cravings for unhealthier fare. I sometimes carry a zip lock bag of almonds in my bag as a quick snack if I start to feel hungry in between meals, and need something nutritious to tide me over. Raw almonds taste delicious just as is!
Cashews – Cashew nuts are an excellent source of copper, as well as a good source of magnesium, tryptophan, and phosphorus. Copper serves an important function in our body by helping in iron production and in anti-oxidative processes. In addition, most of the fat in cashews is unsaturated and contains oleic acid (a type of fatty acid also found in olive oil) which promotes cardiovascular health.
Peanuts – As I mentioned earlier, peanuts are actually legumes and not nuts. They are a good source of protein and monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to promote heart health. They are also a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B3, folate, vitamin E, copper, tryptophan and manganese. Peanuts also contain polyphenols and flavanoids – phytonutrients found in many fruits and vegetables, and they can provide similar health benefits. Some individuals may be allergic to peanuts – but they may still be able to consume other nuts such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts, and incorporate these in their diet for their nutritional benefits.
Pecans – Often synonymous with pecan pie, these nuts are a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E, and plant sterols which have be shown to help lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Pecans also contain fiber, vitamins A, multiple vitamins B, calcium, copper, folate, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. Plus, almost all of the fat in pecans is mono and polyunsaturated, which in turn provides additional heart-healthy benefits.
Pistachios – I always think of pistachios as somewhat exotic…perhaps because they are green and purple when unshelled 🙂 But these nutritional powerhouses provide a wealth of health benefits: they are a rich source of potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese and vitamin B6. They also contain phytosterols (plant sterols) and fiber which can help lower bad cholesterol, and arginine, another nutrient that helps in keeping our arteries clear. As with other nuts, pistachios are a good source of heart healthy poly and monounsaturated fats, and out of all nuts, pistachios seem to have one the lowest calorie content, and the largest serving size per ounce. One ounce of unshelled pistachios is about 45-47 nuts, which contain approximately 160 – 170 calories. (In comparison, 1 ounce of almonds is about 23 – 24 nuts, with 160 calories. 1 oz of cashews is 16 – 18 nuts with 160 calories, and 1 oz of pecans is 18 – 20 halves with around 200 calories.) A complete calorie breakdown for 1 ounce of various types of nuts can be found here. I like to add pistachios to my morning cereal or oatmeal some days, or use it as a topping on salad or yogurt.
Walnuts – These nuts may be best known for their high levels of omega –3 fatty acids. in fact, a quarter cup of these nuts provides over 90% of the recommended daily value for these important fatty acids which the body cannot manufacture on its own. These fatty acids have important anti-inflammatory properties, and can aid in cardiovascular, cognitive (brain) and skin health. Walnuts also contain impressive levels of copper, manganese and tryptophan, and the essential amino acid L-arginine, which may aid in reducing hypertension in some individuals.
Detailed descriptions of the health benefits and nutritional breakdown of these nuts can be found at the links below:
Adding Nuts to Your Diet
I primarily add nuts to my breakfast concoctions (as M likes to call them!). As I mentioned earlier, I may add a few almonds, pistachios or walnuts to my morning cereal or bowl of oatmeal (the type of nut will depend on what I feel like on that day.) I also add them as a topping on yogurt or cottage cheese as a snack. Sometimes, I will just eat a few nuts (pistachios, almonds, or peanuts) as a snack with a piece of fruit in between meals.
Walnuts have a richer flavor than some of the other nuts, and some of the best ways to these nuts to your diet are: as a topping on cereal, oatmeal or yogurt, on salads with pear, spinach, blue cheese and balsamic dressing, or on pancakes (my favorite!) with maple syrup and sliced bananas. They can also be added as toppings on frozen yogurt, ice-cream or cottage cheese, or added to baked goods such as banana walnut bread.
Another way to incorporate the nutritional benefits of nuts in your diet is through Nut Butters (that’s a whole new post!!!) – such as almond, peanut or cashew butter. But more on that in another post 🙂 Till then, try adding some nuts to your meals in place of cheese and other saturated fats….your taste buds and your heart will thank you for it!