Back in the old days (say, about five years ago), no nutritionist worth her calorie counter would recommend adding nuts to your diet. High in fat and calories, nuts were a definite no-no. Not anymore. Seems there's barely a nut out there whose health benefits aren't being touted these days.
Nuts and Fat
While nuts are high in fat, it's mostly "good" (or monounsaturated) fat, which actually raises levels of "good" (or HDL) cholesterol and helps reduce the risk of heart disease. In the case of most nuts, 85 percent of their fat is "good" fat. (This does not apply to macadamia nuts, though, because of their high saturated fat content.)
Some nuts may be better for lowering cholesterol than others. Thus far, the best evidence of heart-health promoting properties has been generated for walnuts, followed by almonds.
Nuts and Diabetes
Nuts provide sustained energy because, thanks to their mix of fat and protein, they're a "slow-burning" food—fat slows the digestion process, so glucose enters the bloodstream more gradually. This also helps keep your blood sugar steady. In addition, nuts are loaded with magnesium, a mineral shown to slash the risk of diabetes and perhaps even boost the sensitivity of cells to insulin. In fact, Harvard researchers discovered that women who regularly ate nuts (about a handful five times a week) were 20 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who didn't eat them as often.
Nuts provide a hard-to-find nutrient—vitamin E, an important antioxidant that may help fight prostate and lung cancers. Brazil nuts are selenium superstars, providing a whopping 200 times more of the mineral than any other nut. Selenium has been linked to prevention of both cancer and heart disease. Almonds provide bone-building calcium. Hazelnuts and cashews boast the most copper, a much-needed nutrient for people with diabetes.
According to a Harvard University study, dieters who ate peanuts and peanut butter found it easier to stick to their diets. That doesn't mean you should feel free to polish off a whole jar of nuts or slather peanut butter on everything in sight—calories still count, after all. Instead, substitute nuts or peanut butter for other, less healthy items in your diet, such as butter or candy.
Are Peanuts Nuts? Technically, peanuts aren't nuts at all, but legumes. Unlike nuts that grow on trees, they grow underground, but for health, they rank right up there with all the aboveground nuts.
To keep nuts for longer periods of time, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to six months; in the freezer, they'll last for up to a year.
Roasting nuts brings out their flavor. Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Place 1/2 cup of shelled nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 7 to 10 minutes. Check near the end of the roasting time to make sure they don't burn.
Be creative when it comes to cooking with nuts. For instance:
- Sprinkle them on salads
- Chop them and sprinkle them on cereal or mix them into muffin batter
- Grind them and use as a coating for cooking salmon or chicken
- Stir them into ice cream (the low-fat kind, of course)