A nut is defined as “a hard-shelled dry fruit or seed with a separable rind or shell and interior kernel.” A seed is defined as “the grain or ripened ovule of plants used for sowing.” Peanuts are actually legume rather than a tree nut. Most commonly thought of as a snack or topping to a bagel or cracker, nuts and seeds can play a bigger part in the overall meal plan, and they offer the nutritional benefits to justify their inclusion.
Nutritionally, nuts and seeds are low in saturated fat, yet high in fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, phytonutrients, and poly- and monounsaturated fats. Because they are of plant origin, nuts and seeds do not contain cholesterol. Unless salted, nuts and seeds are naturally low in sodium.
Vitamin E protects our immune system by acting as one of the body’s most important antioxidants. Magnesium, a required mineral, is involved in many important bodily processes. Research has shown that not getting enough magnesium may lead to hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
What about the fat? Don’t nuts and seeds contain a lot of fat? Most of the fats in nuts and seeds are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These are the heart healthy fats. Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and cashews contain more saturated fats than other nuts and should be consumed in smaller amounts. Yes, the calorie count is the same as other fats, so limiting intake to one serving a day is advised.
According to the USDA, a 1⁄2-ounce serving of nuts or seeds is equivalent to a 1-ounce serving of meat or poultry. This is approximately 12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves, or 1 level tablespoon of nut butter. Half an ounce of seeds or nuts is a good serving size for a snack. It is recommended that nuts be weighed on a food scale instead of measured by volume.
Health publications recommend a 1.5-ounce serving of nuts for good overall health, but this should not be in addition to all the other calories in your meal plan. It should be substituted for meat, cheese, or eggs. If you choose to count nuts and seeds as the protein in your meal, a 1.5 ounce serving is equal to the recommended 3-ounce serving of meat, poultry, or fish.
Raw, unroasted, unsalted nuts are the best choice for eating and cooking. Raw nuts and seeds have more nutrients because they have been processed less. Unsalted nuts are naturally low in sodium. Raw nuts and seeds have a shorter shelf life, so they should be refrigerated or frozen for later use.
Commercial roasting of nuts is usually done one of two ways: roasted or dry roasting. Roasting generally involved frying the nuts or seeds in oil and can add an additional 10% fat. Dry roasting nuts and seeds are heated without added oil but are often heavily salted. Raw unsalted nuts and seed are healthier and often cost less.
Use these suggestions for adding nuts and seeds into your daily food intake:
• Chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans to salads, breakfast cereal, or yogurt.
• Cashews or peanuts to a stir fry recipe.
• Pine nuts to a pasta dish
• Ground walnuts to pancake batter
• Nuts or sunflower seeds to bread dough before baking
• Ground flaxseed in batters or breading for oven-baked fish or chicken
• Peanut or almond butters in stir fry recipes.
As you can see, nuts and seeds are a great way to positively impact your health.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Information for this article was obtained from Bulletin FCS3-545: “Environmental Pollutants and Nutrition: Nuts and Seeds” written by the UK Superfund Research Program Community Outreach Core for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
Nut and Seed Spread
1 cup walnut halves
1⁄2 cup sunflower kernels
1⁄2 cup sesame seeds
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon water
Combine all nuts and seeds in a food processor or blender. Blend, gradually adding honey, oil, and water until desired consistency. Store spread in refrigerator.
Yield: 20 (1 tablespoon) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 90 calories; 8 g total fat; 1 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 0 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 1 g dietary fiber; 1 g sugar; 3 g protein; 2% Daily Value of calcium; 4% Daily Value of iron
Nutty Sweet Potato Biscuits
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mashed sweet potato
6 tablespoons sugar
1⁄4 cup butter, melted
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and walnuts. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine sweet potato, sugar, butter, vanilla, and milk. Add to flour mixture and mix well.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface; gently knead 3 or 4 times. Press out to 1⁄2” thickness. Cut with a 2 inch biscuit cutter and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake at 450°F for 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Yield: 18 (2-inch) biscuits
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 4 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 210 mg sodium; 14 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 2 g protein
Source: Plate it Up! Kentucky Proud Project, October, 2012
Pumpkin Seed Muffins
1 3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup milk
1⁄2 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, well beaten
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, pumpkin seeds, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a smaller bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened (Batter should be lumpy). Spoon batter evenly into greased muffin cups. Bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until the tops of the muffins spring back when lightly touched. Remove from the muffin pan and serve warm.
Yield: 12 muffins
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 190 calories; 4 g protein; 24 g carbohydrate; 8 g fat; 175 mg sodium
Source: Sandra Bastin, M.S., R. D. Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, “Vegetables for Kentucky Wellness,” FSHE-1, 1997