Crunchy goodness that’s good for you too? These potent portables pack a powerful taste and health punch
DID YOU KNOW?
Nuts have been a mainstay of the human diet all over the world since prehistoric times—in fact, almonds, which are native to the Mediterranean region, were one of the earliest foods to be cultivated. Today, there are thousands of varieties of nuts grown. The most popular? At more than 600 million pounds eaten per year in the U.S., it’s the peanut, which was first harvested in South America about 800 B.C. Their popularity on this continent began to take off during the Civil War, as soldiers turned to peanuts for sustenance. Peanuts soared to new heights in 1969 as Apollo astronauts carried them into space.
Think of nuts as being high in fat? While that is true, there’s some good news for nut lovers: The types of fat they contain— monounsaturated and polyunsaturated— actually have great health benefits! In fact, research shows they can protect your heart and lower cholesterol. What’s more, they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce heart-attack and stroke risk, and arginine, which keeps blood vessels in tiptop shape. And while all nuts offer these benefits, each variety offers its own extra health boost: Almonds contain more fiber per ounce than other nuts—that’s likely why a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that when dieters added the nuts to their meal plans, they lost more weight than did dieters who added more complex carbs. For the biggest antioxidant boost, crunch on walnuts—they have the highest concentration of the disease-fighting, anti-aging nutrients. Pistachios are rich in an antioxidant called gamma-tocopherol, which helps reduce lung-cancer risk. Another cancer fighter? Brazil nuts, which are chock-full of selenium, a mineral known to help thwart the disease. Trying to lower your cholesterol? Opt for pecans, which studies show can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels up to 33 percent. And don’t forget cashews— they get their superpowers from high concentrations of magnesium, which boosts your memory.
BUY · STORE · GROW
When buying nuts in the shell, look for ones that feel heavy for their size—they’ll crack open to reveal a meaty interior. Give them a quick shake, too, to make sure there’s no rattling, a telltale sign of staleness. If you’re buying them unshelled, look for nuts that are plump and firm to the touch. Choosing between roasted and raw? Go ahead and pick your favorite—as long as the nuts are dry-roasted without salt or oil, you’ll get the same health benefits from either option. (Salted nuts are fine as an occasional treat, but those watching their sodium intake should steer clear.) When it comes to storage, an airtight container in a cool, dry place will keep nuts fresh for up to a month. For longer-term storage, the freezer is best: Because nuts are high in oil, they can become rancid when exposed to light and heat.
ORANGE SPICED NUT MIX
Courtesy of Whole Foods Market
2 cups whole shelled almonds
1½ cups shelled pecan halves
1½ cups shelled filberts (hazelnuts)
1 cup sugar
¼ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. sea salt
2 egg whites
1 Tbs. grated orange peel
½ cup unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 325° F. Blanch almonds (cover with boiling water in a bowl, drain, rinse with cool water, rub off skins). Spread all three types of nuts on a rimmed baking pan. Bake, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes until lightly toasted. In a small bowl stir together sugar, allspice and salt. In a separate small mixer bowl, beat egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form, gradually add sugar mixture and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. By hand, fold in nuts and grated orange peel. Melt butter in the oven on the original baking pan. Return nut mixture to that pan and spread over the butter. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes or so, for 25 to 30 minutes until nuts are brown. Cool completely on the pan. Store up to two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.
Related Read: Quinoa, the Super Seed