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What about Nuts?

nuts, healthy diet

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Many weight-conscious people shudder at the idea of nuts as part of a healthy diet. For years, dieters have shunned nuts because of their high fat content. The key to including the great taste of nuts in a healthy diet without overdoing the fat and calories is portion control. The Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing a proposal that would allow foods containing nuts to carry this label: "Diets containing one ounce of nuts per day can reduce your risk of heart disease."

Several studies over the past several years have shown the health benefits of nuts -- which contain monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, protein, and fiber, and are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals. Nuts are beneficial because they are chock-full of nutrients, including vitamin E, which may reduce development of plaques in arteries, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease risk of stroke and heart failure, and reduce irregular heartbeats.

Nuts are a powerhouse of good nutrition that can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease. They've also been shown to play an important role in helping to lower "bad" cholesterol levels and raise "good" cholesterol levels. In addition, they can help dilate blood vessels and prevent hardening of the arteries. The Nurses’ Health Study, which followed 86,016 nurses for 14 years, found those who ate 5 ounces or more of nuts per week reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by 35%. The researchers also noted that the nut-eaters tended to weigh less than the nurses who did not eat nuts.

A one-ounce serving of nuts contains between 160 and 200 calories, most of which come from the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Nuts are also very high in dietary fiber, and are one of the best plant sources of protein. Most nuts are consumed on their own, by the handful, which can be dangerous. This is the kind of food that often leads to "eating amnesia" - hand to mouth without much thought-and can easily lead to consuming lots of extra calories.

Avoid mindless eating by pre-portioning your nuts in small bags for a great snack to take on the go or to the office. Choose nuts in the shell and you'll probably eat fewer since it takes time to crack them. Or take one handful and put the package away.

Your goal is to eat nuts instead of other sources of fat like cakes, cookies, or chips. You won't feel deprived when you top your apple or celery slices with peanut butter!

Here are some ways to add healthy "nut" fat to your diet:

  • Use nuts to replace croutons in salads or soups.
  • Remember that slivered almonds do wonders with everything from chicken to desserts.
  • Add nuts to bread, pancakes, waffles, or muffins.
  • Toast nuts to enhance the flavor. Bake for 5-10 minutes in a 350° oven.
  • Sprinkle peanut halves or slivered almonds onto green beans.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension Service Food and Nutrition Specialist

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