MU Extension

Nuts are known to be great for snacking. They are portable, packed with healthy nutrients, dense in protein, and delicious. But, it turns out that many of the snacks we know as “nuts” are not really nuts at all.

“For example, most people know that the most popular nut, the peanut, is not actually a nut, but is a member of the legume family,” said Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios and walnuts are actually drupes. A drupe is a fruit where the hard shell containing the seed inside is surrounded by the fleshy part of the fruit.

Peaches, cherries, plums and olives are also drupes.

“So, sometimes we eat the seed inside the drupe, and other times we eat the pit instead of the fruity fleshy part,” said Duitsman.

It is called a nut if it is an oily kernel found in a shell with nut-like characteristics —- which we can eat raw, roasted, salted, sweetened, or plain.

“At one time, nuts were seen as being too high in calories to enjoy on a regular basis. But recent studies have shown that eating nuts in moderation provides health benefits,” said Duitsman.

Nuts have been shown to benefit blood sugar levels, protect from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and possess heart-protective effects. Nuts also have a very low glycemic index, making them ideal food for those with insulin resistance problems such as diabetes.

In published randomized trials, those who ate about one ounce of nuts a day had higher HDL (good cholesterol), lower blood pressure, ate less sugar, and weighed less than those who did not eat nuts. Nuts are thought to help with satiety and satiation.

“Although nuts differ somewhat in their unique nutrition credentials, they have many things in common,” said Duitsman.

Nuts are packed with protein, fiber, essential fats, vitamins, minerals, and many phytonutrients that have been shown to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

A one-ounce serving of nuts contains between 160 and 200 calories, and between 80-90 percent fat. Duitsman says that the type of fat is mostly the healthy, monounsaturated fat.

A one-ounce serving of nuts differs greatly, depending on the type of nut. The following are examples of a one-ounce serving: 24 almonds, 18 medium cashews, 12 hazelnuts or filberts, 8 medium Brazil nuts, 12 macadamia nuts, 35 peanuts, 15 pecan halves and 14 English walnut halves.

“Eating a one-ounce serving of a variety of nuts each day, or five ounces each week, will offer the most disease fighting and health promoting benefits,” said Duitsman.

Keep raw, unsalted nuts in the refrigerator until ready to use them. Toast them by spreading them on a baking sheet and placing in an oven at 350 degrees. Toss them occasionally until they are roasted to your taste.

“You can add a little salt yourself, or use cinnamon or garlic, or another favorite spice,” said Duitsman.

There is one word of caution. Nuts can go rancid very easily when exposed to heat, light and air. Never consume rancid nuts. The rancid oils – which will be offensive to the smell and taste — are carcinogenic. Wait to roast, chop or grind nuts until right before you use them to protect them from rancidity.

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