Squirrels and dietitians agree: From acorns to walnuts, nuts are good food. Nuts offer valuable fiber, protein, and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamin E.
Research studies indicate that there is an association between increased nut consumption and a reduction of heart disease.
Nuts also contain fat. They range from 146 calories for an ounce of pine nuts (about three tablespoons) to 200 calories for an ounce of macadamias (about 12 nuts). Pecans have as much fat as macadamias—19 grams per ounce. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, and pine nuts are at the lower end, with 13 or 14 grams of fat per ounce.
But nut fat is "good" fat—a mix of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat has an antioxidant effect and helps keep cholesterol from sticking to your arteries. The good fats along with fiber in nuts can make you feel fuller and more satisfied, so you actually might eat less.
Nuts are a quick satisfying snack option. They are a good source of fiber and protein, they're portable, and convenient.
Allergies to nuts are common, however. The most common nuts that trigger a reaction are Brazil nuts, cashews, filberts (hazelnuts), hickory nuts, pecan, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts. Peanuts are not really nuts (they're legumes), but they trigger the most severe allergic reactions in both adults and children. And if you are allergic to peanuts, you may also be allergic to tree nuts, nut oils, and related products.
If you serve nuts in the shell, it takes longer to eat them.
To reduce the amount of sodium, be sure to choose the unsalted varieties.
Toasting brings out flavor. Roasted chestnuts are a special treat. Blanch walnuts in hot water to remove the sometimes-bitter skin, then toast them for a new taste and texture.
Because nuts contain oil, they can turn rancid. To keep nuts fresh for extended periods, pop them in the freezer.
With a blender or food processor, you can make your own nut butters. Try pulverizing almonds or walnuts with a little honey or sugar. A drop of oil can keep homemade butter moist.
It's easy to chop a handful of nuts to add them to hot vegetables, salads, rice, or pasta dishes. Try pecans on sweet potatoes, slivered almonds in string beans, or whole nuts in stir-fries.
Pine nuts are a staple ingredient of pesto, the Italian basil-garlic sauce. You can make an original sauce with any number of nut and herb combinations to perk up meat, fish, or pasta.
Nut oils can give different flavors to salads and vegetable dishes. Just remember: one tablespoon of unsaturated nut oil has the same 125 calories and 14 grams of fat as any vegetable oil.