By Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD
The Med approach series started with eat-less-often foods at the tip of the pyramid (https://oldwayspt.org). A couple months ago the series reached the pyramid’s foundation: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans/lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices - Base every meal on these foods.
Nuts - an integral part of the Mediterranean way of eating - are a nutritional powerhouse of plant-based protein, fiber, heart healthy fats, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Scientific evidence has found nuts are heart protective and help to manage blood sugar levels.
Perceived barriers to eating nuts include calorie content (rich in fat), taste preferences, dental limitations, susceptibility to allergies and too expensive. Consider, though, the fat is mostly healthy unsaturated fat and research has shown nuts themselves don’t cause weight gain.
Considering cost, the serving size on nuts’ Nutrition Facts label is generally ¼ cup or about 1 ounce. When factoring in this modest serving size and all the nutritional benefits, cost has a different look.
A huge plus for nuts is their satiety value, which is due to the rich fat content. One can feel fullness sooner and longer if the meal or snack contains nuts. Nuts are hunger managers.
The most popular nuts are pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and peanuts. Trivia fact: peanuts are a legume, not a tree nut. However, peanuts’ nutritional profile is so like that of tree nuts, they’re widely identified as part of the nut group.
Nuts come raw, lightly salted, unsalted, seasoned, plain, roasted, in/out of shell, whole, halved, diced, slivered and sliced. They vary in texture, nutrients, taste and unique properties. While the healthiest are raw, dry roasted and unsalted, all forms are worth considering based on personal taste and additional ingredients. Look to minimize added sugars, added oil and salt.
Roasting and toasting raw nuts enhances their flavor. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes or toast in a heated skillet on top of the stove. Toss occasionally until fragrant but not charred. Don’t walk away – nuts can burn quickly!
For storage, it’s best to kept nuts in the fridge or freezer unless eaten within a few weeks. Why? The rich amount of unsaturated fat makes nuts prone to going rancid. Rancid nuts won’t make you sick, but the tastebuds won’t appreciate. An easy rule-of-thumb: store in the fridge about 6 months and the freezer about 12. Storing in an airtight container is best to avoid picking up packaging and refrigerator flavors.
Nuts are widely considered a between-meal munchie, although an easy addition to an entrée or side dish to boost flavor, texture and nutritional value.
No-recipe meal ideas:
For an easy-to-assemble holiday appetizer, consider a charcuterie board (or plate) where everything is bite size, grab-able and shareable, including nuts. When selecting components, consider sweet, sour, savory, salty, colors, shapes, soft, hard, dried and fresh options.
Two resources for guidance on building a charcuterie board: https://simpleandsavory.com/build-healthy-charcuterie-board and https://picky-palate.com/make-the-perfect-charcuterie-board. Prioritize choices that are part of the Mediterranean way of eating, including nuts!
About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:
Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically-managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.
Help seniors flourish by reconnecting them—as recipients and contributors—with their surrounding communities.