Superfood: Nuts

February 05, 2013

Recently, the reputation of nuts has soared with the realization that not all fats are created equal and that nuts are a rich source of phytochemicals

Nuts are widely available in supermarkets, health food stores, and many street and farmers' markets. Recently, the reputation of nuts has soared with the realization that not all fats are created equal and that nuts are a rich source of phytochemicals, including those with strong antioxidant activity. While nuts do contain fat, studies show they actually help with weight management and tend to make you feel fuller and more satisfied – this could also be due to their high fiber content. One of the dominant fatty acids in nuts is oleic acid, the same as in olives and avocados. Oleic acid is known to lower LDL cholesterol without lowering the beneficial HDL cholesterol. Some nuts even contain omega 3s - walnuts are a particularly great source of these essential inflammation reducing fatty acids.

Almonds are another particularly healthy nut; they contain many essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium, and have strong antioxidant capacity as well. Let’s not forget the other nuts like pecans, macadamias, and pistachios, which have been studied for their high levels of flavonoids. Brazil nuts are an especially stellar source of the potent antioxidant mineral, selenium. 

How to buy?
Most nuts can be bought either in the shell or shelled. Shelled nuts are either kept whole, or can be found flaked, ground or pressed into oils. Some nuts are available fresh, or still "green," but most are sold dried and roasted. When purchasing nuts out of the shell, choose ones that look crisp and plump. Nuts that appear shriveled may be of poor quality and most likely have been sitting on the shelf or in the bin for too long.

Nuts in the shell cost less and have a longer shelf life, as the outer layer protects them from light and air. Shelled nuts can be particularly helpful for those watching their food intake. After all you have evidence of all the nuts you’ve eaten!

Nuts that have been processed, including those that have been overly salted or roasted in oils significantly reduce shelf life and often increase the price; so beware! If you must have salted nuts, a great and less expensive option is to salt them yourself at home. Not only will you save money, but you'll also be able to control the amount of salt to suit your dietary restrictions or taste.

Due to high oil content, nuts are prone to spoilage, and should be stored in opaque, airtight containers and kept in a cool, dry place. Proper storage not only maintains freshness but also lets nuts retain their nutritional value. Keep in mind that peanuts, pecans, and walnuts are most prone to spoilage, while almonds and cashews are less so.

Properly stored shelled nuts will last only a few weeks when kept at room temperature, while nuts still in the shell should last about four months. If stored in sealed jars or cans, you'll have about three months to crack open the container.

Some quick money-saving tips:
Scanning your supermarket, you can usually find nuts in the produce section, gourmet section, bulk, and baking or nut section - take the time to compare the prices by ounce. Typically you will find the same nut in all three locations - all at different prices!

To roast nuts at home, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, spread the nuts on a baking sheet, and place in oven. Smaller nuts, like peanuts (which are actually legumes) and macadamia nuts, will take five minutes or less; and larger ones like pecans, walnuts and almonds may take up to ten minutes. Nuts are roasted when they have turned golden-brown. Sprinkle them on just about anything, or eat them as a healthy snack. The rich flavor brought out during roasting is sure to satisfy. For even more flavor, add your favorite spices before you roast.