Enjoying a handful of nuts is a pleasure for most people. But the thought of the fat in nuts may keep some people from savoring that pleasure. It is true that nuts are high in fat, but more and more research is showing that most nuts contain "healthy" fats, like monounsaturated fat. These types of fats may actually help lower blood cholesterol.
Aside from the healthy fat found in nuts, another nutrient, magnesium, is also found in nuts.There have been a couple of recent studies that show the important role magnesium plays in our diets. Research is showing that many Americans are deficient in magnesium. The findings in the National Nutrition and Health Examination Survey (NHANES) that the majority of Americans take in less than 2/3 of the normally recommended amount of magnesium suggests that improving magnesium intake has the potential to be helpful in controlling the rapid increase in obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
In a very large prospective study from Harvard it was found that eating an ounce of nuts or peanuts four times a week or more was shown to be related to a 25 percent less likelihood of developing diabetes. Magnesium intake has been associated with insulin sensitivity as well. In other words, if there is a history of heart disease in your family tree or if you want to take steps to reduce your risk of heart disease or diabetes, a handful of healthy nuts may be prudent.
A one ounce serving of nuts amounts to about 170 calories and 14 grams of fat. It's easy to go overboard if you like nuts and the calories can count up quickly. But if you're going to have a snack, why not make it a healthy snack? Other ways to add an ounce of nuts to your diet is to put seeds or nuts on your salad, sprinkle them into your cereal in the morning or bake with them.
Of course there are a couple of nuts that are not so healthy to eat and contain saturated fats, such as macadamia nuts and cashews. If you're looking for the monounsaturated fats, choose peanuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds. Besides the monounsaturated fat and magnesium that nuts and seeds contain, they also are good food sources of protein and fiber.
In my last column I talked about introducing new foods to kids and making it fun. Pumpkin-carving season is right around the corner, and it is a time when you can make a fun activity out of roasting the seeds from the pumpkin for a tasty snack. Following are some tips for roasting and toasting squash and pumpkin seeds:
To clean: Separate the seeds from the stringy membrane of a freshly opened squash or pumpkin. Put the seeds in a colander and rinse them until they are free of any membrane and dry with a paper towel.
To roast or toast: Coat 1/2 cup of seeds with 1 tsp. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. seasoning of your choice. Depending upon your preference, you might try garlic powder or salt, soy sauce, Cajun seasoning, salt, barbecue seasoning, etc. Place seeds in a single layer on a baking pan (with sides). Bake in 250 degree oven for about one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. They are done when they are light brown.
To store: Store baked squash or pumpkin seeds in an airtight container.
To use: Enjoy as a snack or put them on salads or as a substitute for your usual seed or nut topping.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.