Go Nuts This Holiday!

Make this December a healthier holiday month. Instead of eating goodies full of non-nutritious calories, opt for a handful of nuts and give your body the gift of a nutritious snack!

It’s true that nuts are relatively high in calories, but those calories are chock-full of nutrients like magnesium, manganese, protein, fiber, zinc, vitamin E, folic acid, copper, phosphorus, beneficial monounsaturated fat, and antioxidant phytonutrients.

Eating nuts regularly appears to dramatically improve health. Several studies show the benefits of nuts in the diet for lowering the incidence of heart disease and reducing the risk of stroke, diabetes, the development of dementia, gallstones, and advanced macular degeneration. It appears that daily nut-eaters gain an extra five to six years of life free from coronary disease, and those who eat them regularly increase their longevity by about 2 years.

Nuts promote weight loss if eaten in moderation. The fat, protein, and fiber in nuts help you feel full longer, so you may eat less during the day. By helping to induce a feeling of satiety or fullness, nuts may help people snack less and eat in moderation as the day goes on. Use nuts as a replacement for desserts and empty calorie snacks, but limit your portion to a healthy handful to keep total calories in check.

Pistachios are being promoted as the skinny nut because they are one of the lowest in calories and fat and yet the highest in fiber and protein. Pistachios offer 49 nuts per one ounce serving, more than any other type of nut. Better yet, they take longer to eat since they are in a shell and the empty shells serve an a visual reminder of how much has already been eaten. Research has shown that visual cues as to how much has been eaten subconsciously decrease the amount eaten.

Pistachios are also the nut highest in potassium, beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin B-6.

Pecans and walnuts lead the pack in antioxidants, but almonds, like pistachios, stand out among nuts. Almonds are the highest in fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin, and niacin. Peanuts (which are actually legumes, not nuts) are the highest in protein, but almonds are right behind them. Cashews are the lowest in calories behind pistachios, but are the highest in zinc, copper, and iron.

Nuts are nutritious but expensive. However, keep in mind how many nutrients are packed into these nut calories in comparison to snacks like potato chips, for instance. Buy in bulk and in larger bags from wholesale stores, but always pre-portion the nuts for you and the family while keeping the large bag away from view, since research shows that people eat more if they see a larger container.

Toasted nuts taste better in salads than less-healthy croutons. Toast shelled nuts by spreading them out on a dry frying pan (or in the oven on a dry cookie sheet); this way bring out even more flavor, too. Cook over medium heat on the stove or 400 degrees in the oven and shake the pan as the nuts brown to turn them over while watching them closely to prevent burning.

Swap out bread crumbs for crushed or ground nuts when making fish or chicken to add great flavor. Try Rachael Ray’s Honey-Mustard Chicken Planks made with ground almond and sesame seeds. Add ground or chopped nuts to muffins and breads for more flavor and moisture. I use ground nuts in my quinoa muffin and Greek yogurt muffin recipes, especially for those kids that don’t like the nut texture. Hot cereal made with oatmeal and quinoa taste even better with nuts thrown on top. Make pies with my granola pie crust, which uses ground nuts for more flavor. I often throw toasted pine nuts in my sautéed vegetable and pasta dishes as well as silvered almonds in my brown rice when making a pilaf. Importantly, especially during the holidays, have nuts available to eat in place of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods to improve your health and maintain a healthy weight. Go nuts this holiday!