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H&W Column: Crunch Your Way to Better Health

Health & Wellness Column
Virginia Aparicio
Extension Educator – Health & Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County

Crunch Your Way to Better Health

Fall is near and with it comes the traditions of baking pumpkin seeds after carving pumpkins or roasting chestnuts. Eaten as a snack or in meals, nuts and seeds can give your diet a nutritional boost while reducing your risk for chronic diseases.

Nuts and seeds are nutrient dense and easy to snack on. They contain a variety of nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium, copper, selenium, B vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and fiber. However, no single kind of nut or seed provides all these nutrients, so eating a variety is key.

Though nuts and seeds are a higher-fat food, it is mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats found in nuts and seeds may help lower total and LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk for heart disease. Eating nuts several times a week may help lower blood pressure. People who eat nuts often have more flexible arteries, reducing the risk of blood clots.

Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. The USDA recommends between 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein foods per day for men and women. One tablespoon of nut butter or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent from the protein foods group.

Popular seeds include chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower. Common nuts eaten are walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts, chestnuts, and macadamia nuts.

Almond butter, sesame paste (tahini), peanut butter, or sunflower butter serve as delicious spreads on sandwiches or as tasty dips for fruit and vegetables too!

Nuts and seeds are calorie-rich. Just 1 ounce (about 1/4-1/3 cup) has about 160-200 calories. Keep portions to a tight fistful that you eat a few times a week for easy snacking at home, office, or on the road. Select unsalted or lightly salted nuts and seeds to keep the sodium level down in your diet.

Store shelled or unshelled nuts in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 6 months or for a year in your freezer for best quality.

Here are some ideas for how to enjoy nuts and seeds in moderation.

  • Sprinkle dry roasted nuts or seeds into batters for quick breads like banana bread or bran muffins.
  • Top cooked or dry cereal with nuts or seeds, or mix in ground flaxseed.
  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds on salads and casseroles.
  • Put a tablespoon of any nut butter on apple or pear slices.
  • Grind some nuts and seeds to add to flour or cornmeal coating for oven-fried poultry or pork.
  • Toss nuts or seeds with cooked vegetables like green beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts or carrots.
  • Top regular yogurt, frozen yogurt, or sugar-free pudding with nuts.
  • Mix nuts or seeds with dry whole grain cereal and raisins/dried fruit to make a trail mix. ###
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