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Awwwwww — Nuts!

As long-time visitors to the Kitchen know, Aunt Toby takes a very focused view of food. Since protein is by far the most expensive nutrient out there, I’m always looking to get the most ‘bang for the buck’ when it comes to buying protein. I’m also looking for more goodies and fewer baddies coming along for the ride. That’s just the position I take – other people take other positions depending on their philosophy, religion, medical Rx and so on. (and by the way, this photograph is of cashews in their natural state before they have been hulled and roasted – interesting aren’t they?)

Something Aunt Toby discovered recently (and the world of food is just filled to bursting with new discoveries) is that nuts are really really good. And if you compare them with other stuff that people eat on a regular basis as sources of protein, they start to really shine in terms of what they can do for you. Ounce for ounce, nuts are standouts in terms of vitamins, minerals, and types of fats that they have. In many cases, they can be substituted ounce for ounce for animal products such as cheese and meat. For example, looking at 1 ounce of these items and just examining protein and fat:

Cheddar Cheese: 113 cal., 9 gr. Fat, 7 gr. Protein
Chicken Breast (commercially raised): 55 cal., 1 gr. Fat, 8.78 gr. Protein
Walnuts: 183 cal., 18 gr. Fat, 4 gr. Protein
Almonds: 167 cal, 15 gr. Fat, 6 gr. Protein
Cashews: 161 cal., 13 gr. Fat, 4 gr. Protein

I know some of you are falling on your fainting couches already, “Oh, Aunt Toby..how could you..look at ‘teh fat’…OMG!!!”

Stick a hanky under your nose with a bit of lavender water on it and listen up – more and more medical research is showing that fat is actually good for you and some kinds are even better for you:

“Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Blomhoff R, Carlsen MH), which identified several nuts among plant foods with the highest total antioxidant content, suggests nut’s high antioxidant content may be key to their cardio-protective effects.
Walnuts, pecans and chestnuts have the highest antioxidant content of the tree nuts, with walnuts delivering more than 20 mmol antioxidants per 3 ounces (100 grams). Peanuts (although technically, a legume) also contribute significantly to our dietary intake of antioxidants.
Nuts’ high antioxidant content helps explain results seen in the Iowa Women’s Health Study in which risk of death from cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases showed strong and consistent reductions with increasing nut/peanut butter consumption. Total death rates decreased 11% and 19% for nut/peanut butter intake once per week and 1-4 times per week, respectively.
…In addition to lowering LDL cholesterol, the walnut-rich ALA diet:
• lowered levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation strongly associated with atherosclerosis and heart disease
• increased levels of the protective omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and
• decreased levels of ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 and E-selection, all of which are involved in cholesterol’s adhesion to the endothelium (the lining of the arteries).
The goodness of nuts

So, where are all these antioxidant goodies found? Ahem – the fat, which in the case of nuts, tends to be unsaturated, or monosaturated.

For a detailed look at nutrition of Walnuts: Walnuts

Almonds:Almonds
Health benefits of Almonds

Cashews: Something truly fascinating and totally different for cashews vs. other tree nuts is this: Not only do cashews have a lower fat content than most other nuts, approximately 75% of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids, plus about 75% of this unsaturated fatty acid content is oleic acid, the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. Cashew Overview
Cashew Profile

A chart comparing all sorts of nuts plus peanuts can be found here: Nuts and Peanuts Compared

Another site, which has even more information (actually, so much information that it’s a little bit dizzying, but still, any site that slices, dices, graphs, builds pyramids and analyzes food in such a detailed way is great) is here Nutrition Data Site

So, if you are looking for some protein to substitute for high saturated fat cheeses or meats, or protein which has omega 3s coming along for the ride, nuts are something that should be considered. (OK, I will also admit that it is easy to rationalize eating things like oatmeal cookies that have nuts in them, or carrot cake with nuts in it, or brownies with cream cheese filling with almonds on top from the ‘the nuts are good for me’ standpoint – we can talk about delusions later)

But, from an easy-to-remember standpoint, in rank order:

Highest Protein per Ounce: Peanuts, Pistachios, Almonds, Walnuts
Highest Phytosterols: Peanuts and Pistachios, Cashews, Pinenuts, Macadamias
Highest Monosaturated Fats: Macadamias, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Cashews
Highest Polyunsaturated Fats: Walnuts, Pinenuts, Pecans
Lowest Calories: Pistachios, Peanuts, Cashews, Almonds

Don’t be afraid of nuts – but remember – ounce for ounce, nuts are a very nutrient dense food. In one ounce of nuts, you will pick up almost the same number of grams of protein you will get in lean meats – but going along for the ride are a lot of good-for-you fats, plus amazing amounts of things like copper, manganese, and so on. A very little bit of nuts goes a very long way, so sprinkle wisely.

(photos of nuts courtesy of M.C. Demoura, Conan The Librarian, and JeanM1)

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