Health Benefits of Nuts
Nuts are among the world’s primo health foods. Reach for any of the tree nuts — almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’ll lower bad cholesterol, reduce inflammation, fight cancer, combat heart disease, improve cognitive function, bolster your digestive and immune systems, and manage weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. All this, plus they offer protein for energy and fats to help you feel full.
Specific nutritional benefits vary from one nut to another. In The Best Things You Can Eat, David Grotto details many of them: An ounce of Brazil nuts provides more than 700 percent of your daily requirement for selenium. Hazelnuts are rich in folate and a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called proanthocyanidin that protects the heart. Almonds have antimicrobial qualities. Pecans increase metabolism. Pistachios protect blood vessels. And walnuts have more antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut — which together help improve brain function, reduce inflammation, and prevent cancer, heart disease and premature aging. Nuts are not low-calorie, but the bulk of their calories is locked in heart-healthy oil and fats.
Nuts in the Kitchen
The culinary capabilities of nuts are equally impressive. They are delicious raw, toasted, roasted, baked and fried, and they have sweet and savory notes that make them versatile in many easy nut recipes. Crushed or finely chopped, nuts make a crisp crust on fish filets and meat cutlets. They can also be transformed into flours, butters and milks — all easy to make using common kitchen equipment. Nut flours lend moistness to baked goods — try subbing nut flour for one-quarter of the wheat flour in baking recipes. You can use nut milks in place of dairy milk in many recipes, and turn these milks into yogurt, cheese and ice cream. Nut butters enhance sauces and soups by adding flavor and body, and, of course, nut butters are delicious on bread, with or without jelly. Nut oils are wonderful for many cooking applications; walnut oil is prized for its fine flavor.
Buying and Storing Nuts
Unlike the superfoods that hail from exotic locations around the globe, nutritious nuts grow on trees all over the United States. Most nuts are harvested in late summer and fall, and are usually dried to help them store longer. Freshly picked, raw nuts are a treat, so seek them out at your local farmers market. When you find a good deal on freshly harvested nuts, buy them in bulk to freeze and use the rest of the year. According to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, the best way to store nuts is in opaque containers at cool temperatures. Because nuts contain little water, they freeze well and keep for a long time without damage from ice crystals. Nut oils are best stored in dark bottles in the refrigerator.