Hang out at a local bar and you’re sure to come across a variety of nuts (the food, not the people hanging out in the corner)—and guys popping them like they’re diet freebies.
It’s the perfect example of good food gone bad. Nuts, like avocados, are loaded with heart-healthy fats. But healthy doesn’t always mean lean. A couple of beers and a few handfuls of nuts and you’ve racked up some serious calories—and diet damage. “A one-ounce serving of nuts contains 135 calories, and how many nuts you get in a serving will depend on your nut of choice,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD. “Think about it: Would you rather have 12 cashews or 22 almonds?”
This tiny nut is pretty mighty! What makes the unsung hero of the nut world such a powerful health food? For starters, it’s the richest known food source of selenium out there, with just two of the tiny nuts providing more than a day’s worth of the mineral. Selenium not only plays a key role in metabolism, immunity and reproductive health, but also helps the body absorb vitamin E, which can help ward off cataracts later in life. Not to mention, Brazil nuts are packed with health-boosters like copper, zinc, potassium, riboflavin, heart-healthy fats and magnesium, a mineral many women are deficient in (especially those taking birth control pills).EAT THIS! If you’ve tried them before you’ll likely agree Brazil nuts have a rich, creamy flavor. Add the nut, chopped, to oatmeal with some fruit and honey, pop them in your mouth raw, or roast them for 10 minutes with a bit of maple syrup and salt. Our only word of warning is to keep portion in check. High levels of selenium can be harmful, so stick to a serving (5-6 nuts a day).
Dietary fats are kind of like lovers. Some of them make you a better person, and others—as you often discover too late—are catastrophically bad for your health. The good news is, unlike shoddy boyfriends, dietary fats come with red flags. The absolutely worst match for your apple-shaped figure: saturated fats. While unsaturated fat can help reduce abdominal fat, saturated fat can increase waist size, a study published in the journal Diabetes found. Saturated fats, like the kind you’ll find in baked goods and red meat, “turn on” certain genes that increase the storage of fat in the belly, researchers say. Polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. At about 13 grams per one-ounce serving, walnuts are one of the best dietary sources. Sprinkle a handful on your morning oats or entree salad for belly-busting benefits.EAT THIS! Mix 1 cup walnuts with 1/2 cup dried blueberries and 1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks.
Think of each almond as a natural weight-loss pill. A study of overweight and obese adults found that, combined with a calorie-restricted diet, consuming a little more than a quarter-cup of the nuts can decrease weight more effectively than a snack comprised of complex carbohydrates and safflower oil—after just two weeks! (And after 24 weeks, those who ate the nuts experienced a 62% greater reduction in weight and BMI!) For optimal results, eat your daily serving before you hit the gym. Almonds, rich in the amino acid L-arginine, can actually help you burn more fat and carbs during workouts, a study printed in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritionfound. Fill up, but don’t fill out:EAT THIS! Blue Diamond Almonds. Nuts are high in fat–which may seem counterproductive if you’re trying to lose it–but eating a moderate portion of monounsaturated fat, like the kind found in Blue Diamond’s 100-calorie packs of whole almonds, can ward off the munchies and keep you full. A recent study found that participants who ate about 7 grams of monounsaturated fat with a meal reported a 40% decreased desire to eat for hours afterwards. The saving grace here is the calorie-controlled serving, which stops you from overindulging.
Stephen Colbert may be on to something. UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which were fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for 12-weeks. The only difference between the groups was what they were given to eat as an afternoon snack. One group ate 220-calories of pretzels while the other group munched on 240-calories worth of pistachios. Just four weeks into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point (while the pretzel-eating group stayed the same) and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels showed improvements as well.EAT THIS! We like Everybody’s Nuts brand Salt and Pepper variety. We’re not sure how they got the flavor inside the shell, but we do know it’s totally addictive.
While the classic nut butter shares some health benefits with other nut butters, there tend to be fewer healthy versions available on the market. “Peanut butters are most often processed with hydrogenated oils and sugar, so make sure you check the label carefully,” cautions Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN of Middleberg Nutrition. Organic is always your best option!EAT THIS! When you think of Smucker’s, all-natural may not be your first thought. But, contrary to popular belief, their line of Smucker’s Natural Chunky Peanut Butters are top-notch. The Chunky and Creamy varieties are made with just peanuts and a hint of salt, while a sweeter version also includes honey.
With a rich, smooth texture, cashew butter is slightly lower in calcium than other varieties, but can still pack a nutritional punch. “It’s a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and copper, and shouldn’t be overlooked,” explains Middleberg. Magnesium boasts a myriad of health benefits, Middleberg continues, “such as helping your body relieve various conditions like constipation, insomnia, headaches and muscle cramps, as well as regulating the immune system and supporting brain function.” Though cashew butters tend to be harder to find—you might have to log on to find the healthiest varieties—their laundry list of health benefits make them well worth the hunt. Cashews also contain a good amount of biotin, which will help keep your locks shiny and lustrous. Try using decadent cashew butter in smoothies and desserts to reap all the nutritional benefits and give yourself a healthful treat.EAT THIS! Artisina’s cashew butter is made from the only purest of ingredients: cashews. It’s packed with iron, essential vitamins and none of the bad stuff, making it ideal for an energy-boosting afternoon snack.
MAKE YOUR OWN MIX
Toss a combination of nuts—pecans, almonds, peanuts and cashews—with chili powder, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Roast in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes, until warm and toasty. Or…EAT THIS! Try the Larabar Uber Mixed Roasted Nut Bar. Almonds, roasted cashews, peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts are the shining stars of this snack bar while honey, dates and tapioca syrup add a hint of sweetness. We can’t get enough of this protein-packed, sweet-and-salty combo.