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Health Benefits of Nuts

The nuts category encompasses some foods that aren't true nuts but have been given honorary status due to their similar nutritional qualities. These include the peanut (a type of legume), the Brazil nut, and the cashew (both technically seeds). In this article, we will review how adding nuts to your diet can help strengthen your body. Eating healthier can be part of an alternative treatment against illness.

If you've relegated nuts to special occasions only, then it's time to reconsider. While they may be high in fat, nuts contain mostly mono- and polyunsaturated fats -- fats with a heart-friendly reputation. In one study, people who ate nuts -- almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, or peanuts -- five or more times a week were half as likely to have a heart attack or suffer from heart disease as people who rarely or never ate nuts.

This protective effect may be attributable to the healthy fat profile of nuts, or it may be the result of the vitamin E and fiber found in nuts, both of which can help stave off heart disease; perhaps it's these several attributes combined and even other as yet unidentified ones that played a role. Other studies have demonstrated that adults with a high blood cholesterol level can lower both their total and LDL cholesterol levels by substituting nuts for other snack foods.

Besides being rich in protein, nuts offer a host of other nutrients, such as folate, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, and selenium. Another bonus -- nuts are so dense with nutrients that they quell hunger pangs with fewer calories compared with other snack foods that often provide calories with minimal nutrition.

Selection and Storage

Most fresh nuts are available only in the fall and winter. Shelled nuts can be purchased anytime. Look for a freshness date on the package or container. If you can, check to be sure there aren't a lot of shriveled or discolored nuts. Be wary if you buy your nuts in bulk; they should smell fresh, not rancid.

A caution: Aflatoxin, a known carcinogen produced by a mold that grows naturally on peanuts, can be a problem. Discard peanuts that are discolored, shriveled, or moldy or that taste bad. And stick to commercial brands of peanut butter. A survey found that best-selling brands contained only trace amounts of aflatoxin, but supermarket brands had five times that much, and fresh-ground peanut butters -- like those sold in health-food stores -- averaged more than ten times as much as the best-selling brands.

Because of their high fat content, you must protect nuts from rancidity. Nuts in their shells can be kept for a few months in a cool, dry location. But once they've been shelled or their containers opened, the best way to preserve them is to refrigerate or freeze them.

Preparation and Serving Tips

To munch on as a snack, nuts are pretty much a self-serve affair. For nuts that are tough to crack, use a nutcracker or even pliers. A nutpick is useful for walnuts. Brazil nuts open easier if you chill them first. Almonds can be peeled by boiling them, then dunking them in cold water.

In cooking and baking, it's easy to get the nutritional benefits of nuts without overdosing on fat and calories, because a small amount of nuts adds a lot of flavor. Nuts sprinkled on your cereal can boost your morning fiber intake. Peanut butter makes a great snack on apple wedges or celery or simply spread on a piece of hearty whole-wheat toast. Walnuts go well tossed in Waldorf salad or with orange sections and spinach. Almonds dress up almost any vegetable when sprinkled on top.

Nuts give grains extra pizzazz and crunch. Pignoli, or pine nuts, add a dash of Mediterranean flavor when included in pasta dishes; they're the nuts you'll find in your pesto dishes. Nuts stirred into yogurt make it a more satisfying light meal. And spice-cake and quick-bread mixes as well as pancake batters produce extra-special results when nuts are added in.

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