Bursting with flavor and kid appeal, nuts are an energizing treat for the holiday crunch.

 By Jodie Shield, RD

Are your kids nuts about nuts? Mine are, especially now that they know a “nutcracker” isn’t just the name of a famous ballet or a decorative ornament that I pull out over the holidays.  Nutcrackers actually work – and smashing those tough-skinned little nuts and gobbling up the tasty center is just too much for my kids to resist.  Cleaning up the shells, of course, is another matter.

Like my children, most people enjoy the taste of nuts but they’re afraid to eat them.  Why?  Even though nuts are an excellent source of protein, chock-full of nutrients and are cholesterol-free, nuts are notorious for their high fat content.  But several studies are finding that nuts are not high-fat villains, but actually nutritional heroes that might prevent heart disease and cancer.  That’s because while nuts fat content is rather high, very little of it is saturated.  Instead, nuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower blood cholesterol, especially when substituted for foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and cheese.

Since each nut has its own nutritional niche, it’s important that your family eats a variety of nuts. The DASH Diet Eating Plan and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans  recommend eating at least 3 to 6 servings of nuts a week –  they consider a serving 1 ½ ounces of nuts.   To help you get cracking, I recommend that you try the following three nuts.

Walnuts: Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (a hearty-healthy omega-3 fatty acid), which research suggests may help prevent heart attacks.  In addition, walnuts contain naturally occurring plant compounds called sterols, which help block the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.  One-ounce of walnuts equates to ¼ cup or 12-14 walnut halves. Walnuts taste great tossed into salads, chopped and baked into breads and cookies, or as is – right out of the shell. For more information and some great tasting recipes go to California Walnuts.

Almonds:  Like other nuts, the fat content of almonds is mostly monounsaturated fat which may help to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol while preserving HDL (good) cholesterol levels. In addition, almonds have more calcium than any other nut. Just one-quarter cup of almonds has almost as much calcium as a quarter cup of milk. And studies are finding that because of their high fiber content, almonds may play a role in preventing colon cancer. One-ounce of almonds equals 23 almonds – about the size of a 3 X 3 post-it note. Stir-fry almonds with green beans, stir them into oatmeal, or puree them into almond butter. Visit the Almond Board for almond facts and recipes.

Pistachios: While pistachios offer the same heart health and cancer prevention benefits as other nuts, they are also good for your eyes.  That’s because pistachios are the only nut that contains carotenoids lutein and zeanthin – both of which play a role in preventing AMD (age-related macular degeneration) the leading cause of blindness in people over 65.  And if you want more for less, one-ounce of pistachios is about 49 pieces for 164 calories – that’s the largest serving of nuts with the least amount of calories. Keep a bowl of pistachios on the counter for nibbling; add them to trail mix, mix into tuna or chicken salad for added crunch.  Go to Pistachio Health www.pistachiohealth.com for recipes and health tips.

So this holiday season skip the chips and fatty cheese dips and go nuts! What are some of your favorite nuts?

Nutrition in a Nutshell

1 ounce (1/4 cup) Walnuts Almonds Pistachios
calories 182 167 164
Protein (g) 4 6 6
Carbohydrate (g) 5 6 7
Total fat (g) 18 15 14
Saturated fat  (g) 1.6 1.4 1.7
Monounsaturated fat 4.0 g 9.6 g 9.3 g
Polyunsaturated fat 11 g 3.1 g 2.1 g
Cholesterol (mg) 0 0 0
Fiber (g) 1.4 3.1 3.1
Calcium (mg) 28 75 30

Source ESHA Food Processor 2012

 

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