DEAR DR. BLONZ: I appreciated your recent attention to nuts, as I’ve always liked to snack on them, but must admit reluctance due to their fat content. My partner insists that some nuts have significantly less fat than others, and feels that the fat in nuts is not the harmful kind, so that in reality, eating nuts can be good for you. I would like to believe this, but am skeptical. — S.M., Scottsdale, Arizona
DEAR S.M.: It’s OK to go nuts. Plentiful research supports the concept that nuts and seeds have a place in a well-balanced diet. While they are high-fat foods, they are also versatile, taste good and pack a variety of nutrients.
Snacks are an ever-present fixture in our diet. When we have neither the time nor the desire to have a full meal, we tend to satisfy our hunger pangs with a quick bite. As inevitable as these occurrences are, most of us fail to plan ahead, and find ourselves at the mercy of whatever’s available. Nuts and seeds, being portable and nutrient-rich, are a good fit for these moments.
Some are indeed lower in fat than others. One low-fat nut that comes to mind is the chestnut; most others are at the other end of the scale. Your partner’s comment about the type of fat is accurate, as most nuts tend to be rich in the monounsaturated kind. But keep in mind that how or whether a fat is harmful depends on your dietary “big picture.” As long as we give our bodies the whole foods and plant-based nutrients they need, and have an active lifestyle, the potential for harm from nut calories and fat shrinks in impact.
Nature protects its own, so nuts and seeds often come with antioxidant substances to help keep the energy supply wholesome for the plant-to-be. Almonds, for example, aside from being high in protein, are a good source of vitamin E, dietary fiber and many of the B vitamins. They contain several minerals and are one of the best nondairy sources of calcium and magnesium. A study with almonds, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found cholesterol-lowering effects from a diet using almonds as the source of fats.
Adding nuts and seeds can be an exercise in imagination. In addition to eating them out-of-hand, you can include them in a stir fry, toss them into salads or use them in sauces, on pizza, or added to yogurt for an extra crunch. When combined with vegetables, fruits or grains, nuts can share center stage as part of a nutritious, complete meal that even works, as we have seen, for those on a weight-loss regimen. They can be useful to help satisfy the sometimes insatiable energy demands of growing children. They can be used in morning cereal and make a great lunch-box treat. They are certainly a more healthful choice than French fries, chips and cookies.
Plan ahead and stash some nuts or seeds at your office, in your bag or in your car. I often make my own mix using various nuts, dried fruits, some dark chocolate chips and coconut shavings. Design your own mix, and by doing so, you’ll take control of your cravings and have a nutritious snack of your choosing available when needed.