Go nuts about nutrition

February is National Heart Month, and with increasing evidence revealing the many health benefits of nuts, they make a great addition to a heart-healthy diet. Nuts are rich in plant sterols and fat, particularly the mono- and polyunsaturated types.

Feb. 16 is National Almond Day and Feb. 26 is National Pistachio Day. Almonds, walnuts, cashew and hazelnuts in glass bowls on wooden background

Nuts and health

Tree nuts are a plant-based protein food that contain fiber and a combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in each variety. Assortments include cashews, almonds, walnuts, hazel-nuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts, pistachios and more. The fiber, protein and fat in nuts provides satiety to meals and snacks, making them an excellent option for weight management.

However, portion size still matters. While nuts are healthy, they are also calorie-dense. Nuts range from 160 calories to 200 calories per ounce. To get their health benefits without breaking the calorie bank, it is best to substitute them for other foods in the diet, particularly those high in saturated fat. This can be achieved with one to two ounces a day.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend choosing a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds. More specifically, experts suggest choosing unsalted nuts as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes. Use nuts to replace meat or poultry, not in addition to these.

In a Nutshell

It is easy to lump all nuts into the same category, but each variety is special with a unique profile of nutrients, flavor, texture and versatility. Here are just a few examples:

Almonds (Approximately 23 nuts per 1-ounce serving)

Excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium. They also provide calcium and folate. A versatile ingredient, it can be used whole, sliced, blanched to remove skins and as flour, paste or butter. California provides 80 percent of the world’s almond supply, and they are enjoyed in savory and sweet dishes globally.

Cashews (Approximately 18 nuts per 1-ounce serving)

An excellent source of copper and magnesium. They have a soft consistency with delicate, sweet flavor. Cashews are native to South America, but were introduced by colonists to Africa and India. They are commonly eaten as a snack, raw or roasted, they are often used in Asian recipes and also to make a rich, creamy nut butter or vegan cheese.

Walnuts (Approximately 14 halves per 1-ounce serving)

An integral part of the Mediterranean diet, walnuts contribute to the health benefits of this style of eating. They are rich in antioxidants and an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based form of omega-3. Its grooves hold onto flavors well and they are delicious when seasoned sweet or hot. Walnut oil can also be used in dressings and sauces.

Brazil Nuts (Approximately 6 nuts per 1-ounce serving)

The largest nut commonly eaten. They grow wild on trees in the Amazon rain forests. In addition to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, they contain more than 100 percent of the daily value for the antioxidant selenium. Their rich, creamy texture lends well to snacking, raw or roasted, and confections.

Visit the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center webpage to learn more about resources for weight loss and nutrition, including the spring Healthy You: Weight Management & Mindful Eating program – also available as a self-paced program, in addition to the interactive series of classes.

For more healthy recipes and exercise and nutrition tips, see the CSU College of Health and Human Sciences’ Pinterest board.