BY CAROLYN O’NEIL
There’s a nut war going on, and it’s more than the usual squirrel battle to gather the most food before winter sets in.
Growers of almonds, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts are clamoring to communicate the big health benefits in each bite.
Nuts as a category have emerged as one of the health heroes in the food world. Not too long ago nuts suffered from an image problem because of their high calorie content.
But today studies show that people who regularly eat nuts — about 1½ ounces a day, five days a week — are at much lower risk of having their arteries clog than non-nut eaters. (By they way, 11/2 ounces is a handful, not a can full.)
“Nuts have gotten a bad rap for being ‘fattening.’ The truth is nuts are nutrient powerhouses full of anti-oxidants, protein, fiber and minerals,” said registered dietitian Marisa Moore, an Atlanta spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Nuts can also help keep your blood sugar on an even keel, and the most attention-grabbing news for calorie counters is that research also suggests that eating nuts may dampen your appetite, putting the brakes on your tendency to overindulge.
Not created equal
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the first three letters in nutrition happen to be N-U-T, but all nuts do not contain the same nutrient benefits. So the nut world is crowded with sales pitches based on nutritional profiles.
Almonds are a particularly good source of calcium, vitamin E and fiber.
Peanuts (technically a legume) serve up five times the amount of the heart- health-promoting B vitamin folate, compared with other nuts.
Pecans are a super source of anti-oxidants, ranking higher than most other nuts.
Cashews provide copper and hazelnuts manganese, both important micro-nutrients.
Walnuts are the best nut source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for heart health and other benefits.
Chestnuts, with only 69 calories per ounce, win as the leanest nut. Most nuts clock in at about 160 to 200 calories per ounce.
Pistachios win the biggest number in a 1-ounce serving. Forty-nine nuts go a long way to satisfying your craving for a snack. Moore points out another plus: “Pistachios in the shell are the perfect slow food snack. The time it takes to open pistachios gives your brain a little extra time to realize when you’re satisfied. This helps with both portion control and ultimately weight management.”
Case for mixed nuts
So, which nut should you snack on? Toss into salads? Crush to make a breading for baked fish? They’re all good choices for different reasons. So perhaps it’s best we refer to one of the hallmarks of good nutrition, which is to enjoy a variety of foods to get a variety of benefits. Sounds like mixed nuts to me.
Happily, you can find a variety of nuts on Atlanta restaurant menus.
Here’s a sneak peek at two nutty dishes about to be introduced.
Bistro Niko (scheduled to open Thursday): Chef Gary Donlick’s French bistro-inspired salade de endives gets extra crunch and nutrition from walnuts and apples.
One Midtown Kitchen: New executive chef Drew Van Leuvan adds excitement to green pea ravioli with curried hazelnuts.
● The protein in nuts puts them in the “meat” category. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in meal planning, a half-ounce of nuts is equal to 1 ounce of meat.
● Studies suggest that most nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease. But it’s interesting to note that does not apply to Brazil nuts, macadamias and cashews, which are higher in saturated fats than other nuts.
● About 1 percent of the population is allergic to nuts.
Always ask the server if nuts are used in recipes and if dishes can be made nut-free.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn oneil.com.