Eat Smart: Let’s Get Nuts

Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and minerals, which benefit our brain, heart, digestive system, bones, hair, skin, and nails.

A few nuts go a long way. The Journal of Nutrition published a study that noted a serving of seven almonds before breakfast was enough to increase HDL cholesterol (the good one) in patients with coronary artery disease. Walnuts have also been shown to improve lipid profiles significantly. And both nuts benefit digestion by promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria.

Although the consumption of hazelnuts is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, better yet is hazelnuts and cocoa combined. The International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition reported on a clinical study conducted in Milan, Italy (a yummy two-hour drive from a Nutella® production facility). Results showed the subjects consuming the hazelnut-cocoa mixture had a greater improvement over the group receiving only hazelnuts. The study suggests the combination may act in a synergistic, protective way on the cardiovascular system.

Cashews, packed with healthful fats, are incredibly heart healthy. They’re also a great source of vitamin K, copper, iron, and zinc.

Selenium is necessary for the production of active thyroid hormone, and Brazil nuts are the go-to for this mineral — just one or two per day will do the job.

Enjoy a wide variety of nuts for their abundant health benefits. Pistachios are particularly high in vitamin B6 and potassium and lower in calories than most nuts. Macadamia nuts are full of monounsaturated fat (like olive oil). Of all nuts, almonds have the highest amount of calcium.

The bottom line is all nuts are good choices. Keep each serving to about a quarter cup. Now grab a handful, toss a few in a salad or swirl into yogurt, drop some into a bowl of soup, or try nut butter on crudités or gluten-free crackers. How about making your very own hazelnut-chocolate spread? The recipe follows!

(photo: Susan Ojanen)

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread

Makes 1 cup

Nutrients per one tablespoon: 87 cal., 5.4g carbs, 1.3g protein, 7.3g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 36.9mg sodium, 1g fiber.

Ingredients

1 cup raw hazelnuts
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons gluten-free dark chocolate chips, melted
2 teaspoons raw honey

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10-12 minutes, just until fragrant – be careful not to burn; remove from oven. If the hazelnuts have skins on them, wrap them in a kitchen towel and rub the nuts vigorously against each other to remove as much of the skins as possible; don’t worry about those that will not come off. Set aside and let fully cool.

In a high-speed blender (or food processor), grind the cooled nuts and coconut sugar on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the coconut oil, vanilla, salt, and melted chocolate. Blend for 4 minutes, scraping the sides of the blender following each minute. Check the consistency of the mixture for your desired use. At this point, it should be a pourable sauce. If too thin, add 1 teaspoon of honey and blend 10 seconds to thicken; check the consistency and, if needed for a thicker spread, add another teaspoon of honey and blend 10 seconds more.

Note: Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

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