Nuts About Healthy Eating: Why I Learned to Love Nuts

I did not grow up eating nuts, and in fact, I didn’t even LIKE nuts. I picked them out of brownies or cookies and scraped them off sundaes. Today, however, I not only include nuts in my diet but I actually LOVE them! What made me change?

For twenty years, every day in my private practice, I asked patients to tell me what they had eaten the day before- officially called a 24 hour dietary recall. I learned you can be a vegetarian, but still have poor nutrition (think pop tarts, chips and sweets). I learned most people forget or don’t even register that drinks contain calories, and that the handful of M&Ms they grab each time they pass the break room still “count”. I learned that when people focus on eating 5-10 servings of fruits and veggies each day, they often exceed that number and lose weight. AND, I learned that virtually every beautifully healthy older person in my practice (70’s and up) snacked on nuts, often along with a piece of fruit.

Meanwhile, my medical journals frequently remind me regular nut consumption is associated with a 50 % reduction in incident diabetes and, more importantly, a 30 % reduction in heart disease. Nuts are considered “nutrient dense”, chock full of protein and good fats, plus a good source of dietary fiber. Raw or roasted nuts have minimal sodium, but if purchasing more processed nuts, salt can become an issue.
Which nuts are best? If you’re looking for the highest protein, then peanuts, almonds, pistachios and cashews top the list. For fiber: hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds.

How did I acquire a taste for nuts? Truth be told, with sugar or chocolate covered nuts. I make a salad that has candied almonds, which means you combine a cup of almonds with a fourth of a cup sugar, and you heat that on the stove till the sugar melts and coats the almonds. I found myself snacking on these sugary almonds as I prepared the rest of the meal, and before long, I was honestly enjoying almonds WITHOUT the sugar. The same was true for chocolate covered pecans, though of course I still love those, but only treat myself to a bag now and then, because I’d eat the whole bag too quickly. Where do nuts fit into my diet? I’ve found that adding nuts (on the SIDE, of course) to my morning yogurt smoothie adds enough fat and protein to avoid the potential post-carb crash, silencing stomach rumblings till I can break for lunch. Additionally, they are a long lasting grab and go snack. I keep a variety of nuts in a ziplock bag in my purse or backpack, typically grazing out of that package for about a week.

BOTTOM LINE: Nuts are a nutritious, convenient, appetite-satisfying addition to your daily diet that may lower your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease (obviously assuming you do not have nut allergies).

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