It’s that holiday time of year again when food and snacks are everywhere. It’s almost impossible to ignore the lure of snack bowls filled with candies, nuts, and chips, at parties or office get-togethers. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when I tell you that you really don’t have to ignore those snack bowls anymore if you hone in on the nuts and leave the other high sugar/carb candies and chips alone. Here’s why.
The Amazing Health Benefits of Nuts
For years, you’ve read, or may have been told by healthcare practitioners, that you should avoid high calorie nuts if you’re trying to watch your weight and/or lose a few pounds. When the holidays come around though your will power often flies out the window. But guess what? Even though it’s true that nuts have more calories and fat in them ounce for ounce than other snacks, they also contain much more beneficial nutrition that can actually help curb overindulging at holiday parties. As a guide for your healthy holiday (and whenever else) nut snacking, I’ve put together the top “handful” of nuts that will allow you to eat a few snacks at get-togethers and keep your diet and good nutrition on track as well.
1. Almonds. A few years back, the British Journal of Nutrition reported that the fiber in almonds blocks almost all of the absorption of the fat they contain. This means that you absorb far less calories from eating almonds as snacks than you do candies or chips. In addition, ¼ cup of almonds, about 2 handfuls, contains about 35% of your daily vitamin E needs. Vitamin E is a crucial antioxidant which protects all your cell membranes from free radical damage. It also protects your heart and your brain as well as your skin. Almonds also contain large amounts of L-arginine, an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels and helps prevent blood clots. Try making your own almond butter (see adjunct recipes) as store bought can be very expensive. Tastes great on apple slices, celery stalks or crackers.
2. Brazil nuts. These large, “toe” shaped nuts are packed with selenium, a major antioxidant/cancer fighter. In addition, recent research has shown that selenium may help detox methylmercury from fish. Now, these, you only want to eat 2-3 as their selenium content is very high and more is not better.
3. Cashews. My personal favorites, these “C” shaped nuts contain 25% of important magnesium, a natural relaxant, which can help de-stress holiday parties and improve your memory! They also contain zinc and iron that boosts your immune health and your vision.
4. Hazelnuts (filberts). You may have had hazelnut flavored coffees or candies, or even tried Nutella, a popular hazelnut/chocolate spread from Italy, but have you ever eaten the natural nut? Hazelnuts are incredible little powerhouses of nutrition that have a great, mild taste. They are packed with B vitamins and folic acid which help keep dangerous homocysteine (blood protein markers for vascular inflammation) in check. They also contain beneficial magnesium which helps relax blood vessels, in addition to 7 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and about 20% vitamin E.
5. Macadamia nuts. Those mild, little round whitish nuts from Hawaii contain the most MUFA’s (monounsaturated fatty acids) that protect your heart. They also lower “bad” LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure. A recent Penn State University study found that macadamia nuts lowered triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by 10%.
6. Pecans. Holiday parties often contain pecan pies. You might just skip the snack bowls and opt for the piece of pecan pie instead. Pecans are loaded with the gamma tocopherol form of vitamin E that prevents LDL cholesterol from oxidizing into troublesome fatty plaques in your arteries. A handful of pecans are also great sprinkled atop green salads or fruit salads for added crunch and flavor.
7. Pistachios. Marketed lately as “the skinny nut”, pistachios contain less fat than the other nuts and so less calories. Yet, they contain an impressive amount of nutrition, especially for your eyes. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are in the same family as beta carotene a precursor to vitamin A. Two handfuls of pistachios contain about 160 calories and are a good snack choice for a party. As it takes time to shell and eat them, they can keep you busy for a while and cut down on your overall snack consumption. Recent research out of Anderson Cancer Center in Texas revealed that pistachios might also help prevent lung cancer.
8. Walnuts. Walnuts are always around during the holidays and are one of the best nuts you can eat. Packed with beneficial ALA Omega-3 oils, and L-arginine an amino acid, they not only help fight inflammation in your body, they protect your heart by lowering cholesterol, relaxing blood vessels, and also strengthen your bones. A Harvard study done a few years ago revealed that people who ate walnuts lowered their cholesterol without gaining weight. For people who don’t like to eat fish to get Omega-3’s, walnuts are a good alternative.
There you have it, a handful of the best, high nutrition nuts you can choose for snacks at holiday parties. But don’t take chances that the party you’re going to won’t have any of these healthy mixed nuts to snack on. Bring an assortment of them as a gift to the host/hostess as a healthy contribution to the snack table.
You can buy cans of mixed nuts (unsalted or lightly salted, please) that contain all of the above 8 nuts and no peanuts, at your local grocer or pharmacy (snack section). Arrange them in a large flat bowl in the center of a festive holiday tray surrounded with an assortment of toothpick inserted cheese cubes – double protein, double nutrition, no sugar, minimal carbs! Happy snacking!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News