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Nuts: quick and healthful nibbles

April 11, 2007|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Need a quick snack? Nibble on a nut! A handful a day can help keep you healthy!

Though nuts are a higher-fat food, it is mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fat and might help lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad" cholesterol). As long as you control total calories, eating a handful of nuts daily might help prevent weight gain and possibly promote weight loss.

The fat, protein and fiber in nuts help you feel full longer, so you eat less during the day. By helping induce a feeling of fullness, nuts can help you feel less deprived and not like you are dieting. Just limit your portion. How many nuts are in a handful? Check the chart below.

Nut Nuts per 1 ounce/28 grams

Almonds 24
Brazil nuts 6 - 8
Cashews 18
Hazelnuts 20
Macadamias 10 - 12
Peanuts 28
Pecans 20 halves
Pine nuts (pignolias) 157
Pistachios 49
Walnuts 14 halves

Divide a container of nuts into small snack bags for easy snacking. Keep in the refrigerator until you're ready to enjoy! A snack of nuts might help you resist that gooey sweet roll at work.

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Sprinkle nuts into these foods: salads, yogurt, cereal, pasta, cooked vegetables, muffins and pancakes (toss some into batter).

Store shelled or unshelled nuts in an airtight container in your refrigerator for as long as six months or for a year in your freezer for best quality.

For added flavor, try toasting nuts. A quick and cool way (with minimal cleanup) to toast nuts and seeds is in the microwave. This method works well for amounts ranging from a tablespoon to 1/2 cup. With larger amounts, some are likely to turn dark more quickly than others. The time will vary depending on the size, type and temperature of the nuts or seeds and also might be influenced by the type of microwave.

1. Spread from a tablespoon to 1/2 cup of nuts or seeds evenly in a single layer in a flat, microwave-safe dish, such as a 9-inch microwave-safe pie plate.

2. Add a small amount of soft butter or margarine, or add a small amount of oil to the nuts or seeds. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of fat per 1/2 cup of nuts or seeds; use proportionally less for smaller amounts of nuts or seeds. Stir the nuts or seeds to thinly coat with fat. This small amount of fat helps with browning and speeds up the toasting process.

3. Microwave on high for one minute.

4. Stir and microwave for another minute.

5. Check to see how the toasting is proceeding. Add more microwave cooking time one minute at a time because nuts and seeds can burn quickly. Stir after each addition of time. Small amounts of thin nuts/seeds (sliced almonds or sesame seeds) could be finished at two minutes. Larger amounts of nuts, such as slivered or whole almonds, walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds will take an additional minute or two more microwaving to become lightly browned and smell fragrant.

6. Store any extra toasted nuts or seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, or freeze them in an airtight freezer container for one to three months.

Enjoy the health benefits of a daily handful of nuts or a couple of tablespoons of seeds by sprinkling them on cereal, yogurt, salads, soups, pasta and vegetables. If you would like information on stove-top and oven-roasting nuts, as well as Web sites to visit for information on a variety of nuts, send an e-mail request to LLittle@umd.edu with "nuts" in the subject line. If you would like a printed copy, send a self-addressed, stamped business envelope to: Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "nuts."

For more information about how nuts and seeds fit into the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid guidelines, visit http://mypyramid.gov/pyramid/meat.html.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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