Celebrate Feb. 16 with an almond (or 12)!

Feb. 16 marks Almond Day; just 12 almonds a day may increase your intake of fiber and vitamin E.

When consumed in an appropriate portion size, nuts provide an excellent source of protein, fiber, calcium and vitamin E into our diets. Just one ounce, which is equivalent to 12 almonds, provides monounsaturated and polyunsaturated healthy fats needed in our diet.

Cholesterol and saturated fat often raise LDL or “bad” blood cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fat often raises HDL or “good” blood cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats include nuts and specifically almonds. These are referred to as “heart healthy” fats.

Michigan State University Extension encourages you to try almonds as a snack, in your morning cereal, oatmeal or yogurt, as well as on salad or within stir-fry (be sure you are aware of any peanut allergies you may have). One serving, 12 almonds, provides us with 160 calories so it is important to make sure consumption is limited to a portion size. Nuts can also be substituted for meat in many casseroles, salads and crumb toppings.

According to NutHealth.org, the U.S. is the largest market for almonds, with about 30 percent of the crop sold for domestic use. About 52 percent of all almonds produced go into retail products, 20 percent go to foodservice applications and the remaining 28 percent is used for bulk sales and snacking. Seventy percent of the almond crop is shipped internationally with Spain, Germany, Japan, China and India being the leading export markets.

Almonds are not the only nut that provides us with needed nutrients. Walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pine nuts and hazelnuts also provide a variety of healthy nutrients including selenium, potassium and magnesium in addition to fiber and healthy fats.

So remember on Feb. 16 to pick up an almond (or 12) to increase your heart health and provide added calcium, fiber, protein and Vitamin E!

More nut facts and recipes may be found at http://web2.msue.msu.edu/bulletins2/media/pdf/Nuts.pdf.

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