Almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts are among some of the most common nuts in the American culture (peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut!). They sound delicious, don’t they? But then your thoughts of noshing on some delicious roasted nutty-ness are halted by the thought that they are pretty fattening, right? Well, friends, I have some good news for you. If you haven’t heard yet, the past decade has resulted in some incredible positive research touting the amazing health benefits of nuts including reduced cholesterol and lowered incidence of heart disease and stroke. Hooray for walnuts on your salad! Hooray for almonds on your oatmeal!
Let’s start with almonds. They’re fairly inexpensive, readily available, and easy to incorporate into almost everything! Their nutritional composition boasts heart healthy mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein and dietary fiber. Almonds also contain a substantial amount of vitamin E (in the alpha-tocopherol form), a fantastic antioxidant that has also been proven to lower the risk of heart disease. The skins of almonds boast hefty amounts of flavonoids, strong antioxidant properties, which when combined with the vitamin E content from the meat of the nut can dramatically help reduce cholesterol levels. (Almonds eaten without the skins are still fabulously healthy, but made even healthier when eaten in the whole form – skin on).
A few of my favorite ways to incorporate the health benefit of almonds into my diet are:
- Drinking unsweetened, vanilla almond milk in lieu of cow’s milk
- Using almond meal (ground almonds with skin on) to substitute for ¼ of the flour in a baked recipe, and definitely in pancakes and waffles!
- Tossing some toasted almonds over salad
- Sprinkling almonds over some greek yogurt with fresh blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup. Mmmmmmm!
- Sprinkle some almond slivers over tomato soup to give a bit of crunch
In addition to all these incredible heart healthy benefits of almonds, they contain a whopping 7.62 grams of protein per serving (1/4 cup) which is more than an egg! Which means almonds are a fantastic snack as they provide you with plenty of protein to keep you fueled after your body uses up sugar and plenty of good fats to keep you feeling full longer.
Next, let’s touch on walnuts. With similar health benefits as almonds, walnuts can also boast their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against heart disease and stroke, high amounts of vitamin E, plenty of fiber and protein. The form of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid, that is in walnuts are especially important to consume since it is essential for optimal function of every cell in the human body, but is solely obtained by food. It is not created in the body. So a simple addition of crushed walnuts on your cereal or in your salad can help put your body on the right track to heatlh!
Here are some of my favorite ways to include walnuts into my diet:
- Make a salad dressing with toasted walnut oil: 1 T. toasted walnut oil, ¼ t. Dijon mustard, 2 T. lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Top sautéed pears with greek yogurt, a drizzle of maple syrup and toasted walnuts.
- A fabulous addition to any salad!
- Make a snack mix with dark chocolate chips, dried blueberries and walnuts (but don’t forget ½ cup is about a serving size!)
A few other nuts that are important to mention are pecans, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. All three nuts are also high in fatty acids (like omega-3 and omega-6 which are the most commonly known), have plenty of protein, fiber and vitamin E. They are all important to add into your diet as they all have cardiac benefits including reduction of the following-stroke, development of Type II diabetes, dementia, advanced macular degeneration and gallstones. Pecans have especially been a source of interest since a study at Purdue University found a link between the form of Vitamin E in pecans and the ability to kill prostate cancer cells. In addition to the health benefits mentioned above, hazelnuts also have good amounts of folate, arginine and B vitamins. While Brazil nuts contain high amounts of selenium, which is beneficial in skin health and will help give you a healthy glow.
Hopefully you are now convinced that even though a serving of nuts seems small, ¼ cup, that they have the ability to pack a wallop of nutrition along with plenty of protein and good fats to keep you full. In addition they have incredible amounts of fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, Vitamin E and in some Vitamin B. Nuts are an affordable way to help add protein to a vegetable salad, crunch to soup and are a great breakfast topper. So grab a handful today and make your heart happy!