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Prairie Fare: Go Nutty for Nuts This Holiday Season

Glazed Pecans (NDSU Extension Service Photo) Glazed Pecans (NDSU Extension Service Photo)
Researchers have linked eating nuts on a near-daily basis with living longer.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I always enjoy baking with my kids around the holidays. In preparation for baking, I began looking at some family recipes the other day. I noted with a smile the “optional” ingredient. Most of the recipes listed on my yellowed and somewhat tattered family recipe cards included chopped nuts.

When I was young, I was not particularly finicky about what I ate, but I definitely did not like walnuts in any food. I was not allergic to them; I just didn’t like their taste or texture.

However, those “optional” walnuts found their way into banana bread, fudge and cookies in my home. I tried to pick them out of the fudge and cookies, but that was very tedious and quite messy. I skipped a lot of calories by avoiding walnuts.

I wasn’t deprived of treats, though. We had at least 30 kinds of cookies to choose from during the holiday season.

Through the years, I have eaten my share of pecans and pistachios. Peanuts, which are known as “ground nuts” in other countries, are a welcome snack, too. Did you know that peanuts are in the legume (or bean) family?

Turns out, we all may benefit healthwise from eating more nuts.

Researchers have linked eating nuts on a near-daily basis with living longer, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers used food intake data from 119,000 men and women during 30 years of study. The men and women in the study were health professionals who filled out food and lifestyle surveys every two to four years.

The “frequent nut eaters” reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by 29 percent, and they reduced their risk of dying from cancer by 11 percent. In fact, eating any type of nut (whether oil-roasted, dry roasted, salted or unsalted) appeared to have a positive effect on health.

Besides reducing their risk of chronic diseases, the people who ate more nuts also were slimmer than the people who ate fewer or no nuts.

When reading about studies such as this, keep in mind that there are no “magic foods” that will erase the effects of a long-term poor diet, lack of exercise or a smoking habit. Aim for an overall healthful lifestyle and include some nuts as snacks or as part of recipes.

Nuts are fairly dense in calories, but a small handful will tame hunger very well. Nuts are good sources of protein and fiber and contain mainly unsaturated, heart-healthy fat. If you choose unsalted or lightly salted nuts, you are keeping your sodium intake under control, too.

If you are trying to manage your calories, keep the following in mind. Nut calories can add up fairly quickly, so substitute nuts for treats such as potato chips or candy bars. You might find that nuts leave you feeling satisfied longer than other foods because of their protein, fiber and fat content.

A 1-ounce serving of almonds (24 nuts) has about 160 calories and 6 grams of protein. A 1-ounce serving of peanuts (28 peanuts) has about 170 calories and 7 grams of protein.

Store nuts properly to extend their good flavor. Because of their high fat content, nuts are prone to becoming rancid or off-tasting. You can extend the fresh taste of nuts by storing them in airtight containers in your refrigerator (up to six months) or by freezing them (up to one year).

I’ve come a long way since my early days of avoiding most types of nuts. Walnuts still aren’t my favorite nut, but I will eat them on occasion. Here’s a sweet treat that makes a welcome homemade gift for friends during the holidays.

Glazed Pecans

1 c. shelled pecans

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

Put pecans, sugar and salt into a large nonstick skillet. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat. Cook sugar-nut mixture until sugar melts and turns a rich, golden color. Transfer nut mixture to a plate(s) so there is one layer per plate and let cool slightly.

Consider these tips: If you are making a large batch, use more than one large nonstick skillet to more evenly coat all off the pecans with sugar glaze. Keep a close eye on the pans because the sugar can burn easily. Try using different kinds of nuts or a mixture of nuts. Store in an airtight container and consume within a week.

Makes eight servings. Each 2-tablespoon serving has 120 calories, 10 grams (g) of fat, 1 g of protein, 8 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 35 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Nov. 27, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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