By Sue Knorr
Nuts pack a big punch nutritionally in a tiny, tasty package that’s rich in fat and other nutrients. You might be surprised to learn that one cup of raw almonds contains 250 mg of calcium, very close to the 275 mg of calcium in one cup of milk. Research has shown nuts to have many health benefits, from lowering cholesterol levels to preventing heart disease. Nuts have gained wide acceptance as an important part of a healthy diet, even though they were once considered a high-fat, high-calorie food to be avoided.
While researching this story, I discovered all sorts of little known nut trivia. One of the surprising things I learned is that the most common nuts, such as almonds and cashews, are actually considered to be seeds, botanically speaking, though they are referred to as nuts in culinary terms. Next time you’re surfing online, take a look at how cashews grow. They hang from the bottom of a fruit called the cashew apple. Cashew apples grow on trees and contain five times the amount of vitamin C of oranges. In some parts of South America the cashew apple is eaten and considered the delicacy, instead of the kernel.
Peanuts, which are legumes, more commonly known as beans, are not really nuts at all. I recently had the pleasure of trying deep-fried peanuts in the shell at a farmer’s market in the South. As delicious as they were, in my mind the jury’s still out on peanut-shell consumption. I also have my doubts about whether they were fried in a Zone-friendly fat. My recommendation is to stick with dry roasted peanuts and to choose peanut butter made without added fats or sweeteners.
The best nuts for the Zone are specifically those that contain the most monounsaturated fat, the good fat that will not increase cellular inflammation or negatively impact your cardiovascular system. Adding small amounts of monounsaturated fat to every meal and snack is a basic principle of the Zone Diet.
Macadamia nuts top the list as the number-one best nut for the Zone Diet. About 80% of the fatty acids in macadamias are monounsaturated. They’re prized for their creamy taste and texture and were originally discovered in the rain forests of Queensland, Australia.
Almonds fall next in line on the list, with about 60% of their fat content in the form of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Next time you’re in the health- food store become something of an almond connoisseur by keeping your eye out for Marcona almonds. Their origins are unknown, but they have been cultivated in Spain for many years. They look flatter and more oval shaped than the typical almond and have a more intense and slightly sweeter flavor. They’re absolutely delicious!
Cashews, pistachios and peanuts contain less monounsaturated fat than almonds but still enough to be included on the list as good nuts to munch on in the Zone.
Here are some tips for buying, storing and enjoying.
- Read the label. Avoid nuts with added omega-6 fats, such as cottonseed oil, safflower oil and soy oil. These are the very fats you want to avoid in the Zone.
- Some stores now sell packages containing individually packed small handfuls of nuts. It’s easy to put a few of these in the kids’ backpacks, the car, your desk, purse or briefcase, so the whole family always has some good monounsaturated fat on hand.
- Nuts contain a lot of oil. To help prevent the oils from becoming rancid, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator
- Try adding peanuts or cashews to your meals for some extra flavor. Cashews go great with both beef and chicken stir-frys.
- Rolling chicken tenders or fish fillets in crushed macadamia nuts before baking adds a delicious crunch to the finished dish.
- Make a quick sauce for vegetables or cooked greens by stirring water into almond butter or peanut butter. Add the water a little bit at a time until the desired consistency is reached. For some Asian flavor include a little soy sauce. Try drizzling thinned peanut butter over matchstick-cut cucumbers for an easy veggie side.
- Stir a teaspoon of almond butter or peanut butter and a little bit of vanilla flavoring into 1/2 cup yogurt. Kids love it!
- Don’t go overboard. A small handful of nuts is all you need.