Nutty or nice?

Nuts are a good source of protein and contain several other nutrients, but be careful of the high calories, fat and sodium.

December is a time to enjoy a variety of nuts in different recipes and snacks at holiday gatherings. Pecans and walnuts are common additions to a variety of snacks, desserts and salads. Nuts provide many nutrients including vitamin E, zinc, iron and folate. They are also a good source of magnesium, selenium and fiber. Brazil nuts, macadamias, cashews and pistachios also make a nice appearance in festive bowls and platters. Other nuts such as peanuts, pine nuts and almonds are enjoyed frequently during any time of year.

Since nuts are a convenient finger food it’s easy to eat a lot of them. However, Michigan State University Extension warns to be mindful because they contain significant amounts of added salt. If you prefer salted nuts, mix them with other unsalted snack foods such as cereal, pretzels, mini crackers and dried fruit. Adding chopped or slivered nuts to salads and other dishes, even desserts, provides more texture and adds more flavor. A bowl filled with in-shell nuts, flanked by a few nutcrackers can slow the pace of eating, and is decorative. Choosemyplate.gov suggests that we choose unsalted nuts or seeds as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes to replace meat or poultry. Nuts and seeds are a concentrated source of calories, so eat small portions to keep calories in check.

Nuts are a good source of protein and are high in many other nutrients, including fat. While nuts can contain high amounts of fat, most of the fats are unsaturated fats, which can help lower blood cholesterol, increase HDL’s and lower the risk of breast or prostate cancer. While they are high in monounsaturated fat, which is healthier than saturated fat and has more nutritional benefit than polyunsaturated fat, just a one-third cup of most nuts contains about 20 to 30 percent of the total recommended fat for most adults. Hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pecans have the highest amounts of monounsaturated fat among most nuts.

A one ounce portion measures about a one-third cup and has about 160 calories. While nuts offer many nutrients and healthy unsaturated fat, the American Dietetic Association recommends keeping portion control in mind to keep overall fat intake and calories within guidelines. Still, nuts are a delicious favorite added to snacks and baked holiday confections. Including a variety of nuts is a delicious way to add protein and many nutrients to our holiday snacking and cooking.

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