Nibble on a nut. A handful a day can help keep you healthy

April 01, 2012|Lynn Little

Need a quick snack? Nibble on a nut.

Though nuts are a higher-fat food, the fat they contain is mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fat and might help reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). 

The fat, protein and fiber in nuts help you feel full longer, so you might eat less during the day. By helping induce a feeling of fullness, nuts might help you feel less deprived and not like you are “dieting.” Just limit your portion. 

Divide a container of nuts into small snack bags for easy snacking at home, the office or on the road. Keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy. A snack of nuts might help you resist other high-calorie snack temptations.

Sprinkle nuts into these foods: salads, yogurt, cereal, pasta, cooked vegetables, muffins and pancakes (toss a handful or two into your batter). 

For best quality and flavor, store shelled or unshelled nuts and seeds in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to six months or for a year in your freezer. 

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 quicker than others. The time will vary depending on the size, type and temperature of the nuts/seeds and also might be influenced by the type of microwave. 

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

Add a small amount of soft butter or margarine, or add a small amount of oil to the nuts/seeds. Stir the nuts/seeds to thinly coat with the fat. This small amount of fat helps with browning and speeds up the toasting process. 

Microwave on high for 1 minute. 

Stir, and microwave for another minute. 

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) might be finished at 2 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. 

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 1 to 2 tablespoons of seeds by sprinkling them on cereal, yogurt, salads, soups, pasta and vegetables. 

 For more information about how nuts and seeds fit into the ChooseMyPlate guidelines, go to and click on “my plate and protein foods.”

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

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