After decades of bad press, nuts are currently enjoying a surge in popularity. This may be the result of new research that extols the benefits of nutrient-dense “healthy” fats like the omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts. As more studies emerge, fat-phobic consumers are realizing that nuts do have a place in a healthy diet.
Health Benefits. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), nuts are an excellent source of protein, folic acid, vitamins, minerals and monounsaturated fats. Although high in fat and calories, they contain no cholesterol. Research has shown that eating a moderate amount of nuts per day can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes; lower blood pressure levels; and perhaps even encourage weight loss. In fact, scientific studies on nuts have been so encouraging that the FDA now allows growers to include the following label on their products: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Portion Control. The key when eating nuts is to be moderate and watch your portion size. Most experts advise limiting daily nut consumption to 1.5 ounces, which measures out to about one-third of a cup. One ounce of nuts, which equals 18 pecan halves or 8 walnuts, contains 160–200 calories, says the ADA. One way to stay within these guidelines is to use nuts as a replacement for—not an adjunct to—your regular snacks. Almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans are among the most nutrient- and energy-dense nuts.
Incorporating Nuts Into Meals. Nuts are not just for snacking, however. They can add variety and flavor to many of your favorite recipes. For example, substitute walnuts for meat in stir-fries or pasta; top a salad with slivered almonds; use grounded pecans in place of breadcrumbs in a casserole; or toss peanuts into cooked brown rice.
Other Cooking Tips. To bring out their flavor, roast nuts on an ungreased baking sheet in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit or in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Chop nuts in a food processor, but be careful not to process them too finely. To make a nut butter, use a meat grinder and pulse two or three times; most nuts will require the addition of a small amount of oil.
Shelling and Storage. Use a nutcracker or a vise to crack nutshells; position the nut the long way and tighten the vise slowly so that the nut cracks but is not mashed. Shelled nuts will stay fresh for a year if frozen in an airtight container.