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On the Table: Go nuts for nuts – in moderation

By Suzanne Havala Hobbs
Suzanne Havala Hobbs
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Suzanne Havala Hobbs

Let’s talk about holiday nuts – the healthy kind!

This time of year, a wide variety of tree nuts are featured prominently in supermarket produce areas. They factor big in holiday baking, but they’re also traditional as a holiday snack or decoration – with a nutcracker nearby.

There’s every reason to enjoy them – if you can – because nuts are good for you. Whatever the variety – hazelnuts, filberts, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts – nuts in general are a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, essential oils, B vitamins and minerals.

True, they’re high in calories. But they’re calories worth consuming because they’re nutrient-packed. Also, you typically eat nuts in small quantities or as a minor ingredient in other foods.

No need to feel guilty about that.

In fact, research has found that regular nut-eaters tend to be slimmer and have lower risks for chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease and Type 2 diabetes.

One caveat bears mentioning, of course. Anyone who suffers from tree nut allergies, one of the most prevalent food allergies, can’t eat nuts, no matter how nutritious they are.

But for those fortunate enough to be able to tolerate – and enjoy – nuts, here are a few ways to incorporate them into your meals now and all year:

• Baked into quick breads, muffins and cookies. Chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans are especially good.

• Mixed with dried fruit for snacking and salads.

• Add a handful to hot cereals such as oatmeal or to cooked grains such as quinoa, rice pilaf and grain-based casseroles.

• Roasted with added flavors. You can find these in the supermarket now or make your own. Examples include almonds coated in cocoa and cinnamon, cayenne pepper or other spice blends.

The shelf life of nuts varies depending upon a number of factors. But over time, oils in nuts can go rancid, causing an unpleasant flavor and odor. Unless you use copious amounts of nuts, resist buying them in volume at warehouse stores. Keep small bags on hand and buy fresh when you run out.

Once you’ve opened a bag of nuts, store them in an airtight container in the pantry for up to several months. They’ll keep longer in the refrigerator, and they’ll stay fresh even longer in the freezer.

Put nuts on your shopping list.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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