Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Go Nuts!

Lately my daughter, the non-eater (except pasta and sugar), has taken to eating what she calls, “nut salads”. She creates these salads herself, filling a small bowl with every kind of nut she can find in my freezer stash and covering the whole mess with sunflower seeds. She then finds a comfy spot and a good book and settles in for a long munch.

For the past several years, I’ve quietly worried about her. Why won’t she eat? Is she developing an eating disorder? Is she eating in secret? In the mornings I watch her pack her lunch of one hard-boiled egg, several brazil nuts (her favorite), and as many cookies as my evil eye allows her, and I wonder if this is becoming a test of wills. The pediatrician keeps telling me to leave her alone, “eventually she’ll hit puberty and get hungry”. So maybe this is what the nut salads are all about. Nuts are just about the perfect food. Throw in an occasional hard boiled egg and you’ve got a pretty healthy diet.

Not being a good vitamin-taker, I make it a habit to add nuts whenever I can. I know they impart all kinds of good vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to cover a multitude of deficiencies. Just about all nuts are heart-healthy, meaning they lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. You really can't go wrong, but here’s the run-down:

Almonds: Vitamin B, E, and magnesium that all help your immune system and prevent oxidation that can lead to heart disease. They pack more protein and fiber than other nuts, plus potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron!

Brazil: Exceptionally high selenium content, plus plenty of vitamin E. Selenium is hard to find in many foods and helps your heart and liver, while helping fight cancer. 1-2 nuts a day is all you need to get your daily recommended amount of selenium. Much yummier than a vitamin! I keep mine stashed in the fridge at eye level, so I’ll remember to grab some every day.

Cashews: Rich in B vitamins, iron, copper, selenium, manganese, potassium, and a host of other antioxidants and health supporting vitamins. Chop some fresh cabbage, add an Asian dressing and a handful of cashews - instant lunch!

Hazelnuts: proanthocyanidins, compounds that may help strengthen blood vessels, reduce heart disease risk, and boost brain health. Also vitamins E, fiber, and B vitamins. These are a delicious added to anything with chocolate.

Macadamia: fiber and B-complex vitamins. (Addie hasn't tried these yet because I'm a cheap skate and also because it's near impossible to get fresh ones. Having traveled to Hawaii once and realized a fresh, local nut is a world away from what we buy here in a can, it's been hard to spend the money. Inspired by her nut fetish, I just ordered some through localharvest direct from a farm on the big island, so she's about to be enlightened!)
Here's another goodie I found on Lifescript, "Macadamia nuts are one of the only food sources that contain palmitoleic acid (a type of monounsaturated fatty acid that may speed up fat metabolism, thus reducing the body’s ability to store fat)."  It's a diet nut!

Peanuts: folate, oleic acid, and resveratrol (the same good stuff found in chocolate and red wine – now there’s a nice diet). They actually contain all nine essential amino acids. To make peanut butter, simply process peanuts in food processor until they are the consistency you like -no need to add oil, sugar, but you can always add other kinds of nuts. You'll never buy blechy store-bought peanut butter again.

Pecans: higher antioxidant score than even wild blueberries! And according to a University of Massachusetts study regular servings just might help delay age-related cognitive decline!

Pistachios: high in blood pressure-lowering potassium, plus as much fiber as oatmeal! Great snack food - slows kids down because they have to shell them first.

Walnuts: only nut that provides a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 that boost cognitive function. Also high in vitamin E, B6, and copper. Look for them to receive even more press as one of the best “super foods”. Have walnuts with brie and cranberry sauce (add a little decadence in the form of a splash of whiskey and/or brown sugar) warmed in the oven.

Need another reason to eat nuts? According to the Nurses' Health Study, looking at the dietary data of 80,718 women, eating at least one ounce of nuts a week gives women a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones!

While nuts might have a lot of calories, most people (other than my daughter), don’t eat very many at a time. They tend to fill you up and those are calories that stick with you, preventing you from over-eating later on. The health benefits definitely outweigh the calorie content. Avoid nuts at your own health risk!

Be sure to either eat your nuts right away or store them in the fridge or freezer where they’ll stay fresh up to 3 months (or longer, I know mine are in there much longer sometimes and always taste fine). Nuts will become rancid if left in warm places too long. Yuck.

So the next time you’re whipping up a batch of cookies or bread, toss in a few nuts. If your kids are nut-phobic, run the nuts through the food processor and they’ll never notice. Just about any nut is awesome on a salad or cereal, but eating them straight is great too. Keep a stash in your purse for a quick snack or pack them in your kids’ lunches since they travel so well. Do be careful of the many people with nut allergies out there and eat your nuts considerately. And when you’re home, you can always copy my daughter and make a nut salad. Sunflower seeds are good for you too – vitamin E, selenium, and folate! But more about all the benefits of eating seeds in the next post!

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