WHAT'S IN A NUT
* Almonds are rich in vitamin E and calcium.
* Brazil nuts are the best dietary source of selenium.
* Cashews are rich in copper and zinc.
* Chestnuts are lowest in calories and contain extremely small amounts of fat.
* Peanuts contain resveratrol, an antioxidant also found in grapes and red wine. They are rich in arginine and contain the most protein.
* Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid.
Source: June Puett, UT Extension agent
Could a food that sounds like it's bad for you actually be good for you? That's nuts, said June Puett, University of Tennessee Extension agent.
"Nuts are high in calories and fat, but those calories are loaded with nutrition," she said.
According to Puett, research indicates that eating nuts daily may serve as an effective tool in weight loss and weight management.
"The fiber and protein in nuts helps make you feel fuller longer, so you are less hungry, and that means you may eat less," she said. "Not all the fat in whole nuts is absorbed -- from 4 percent to 17 percent passes out of the body undigested."
But you can get too much of a good thing, she cautioned.
"Even though the fat found in nuts is healthier than some sources, going overboard could lead to excess calorie intake. Limit yourself to a small handful daily, and instead of simply adding nuts to your diet, eat them in replacement of saturated-fat foods," Puett said. "Consumers should also watch out for the sodium in packaged nuts. Unsalted varieties are widely available."
Puett also recommends nut butters, available in almond, cashew and peanut varieties. As sandwich fillings, they are a better choice than full-fat cheeses and most deli meats, she said.
If shopping for ready-made peanut butter, it's important to read labels, as hydrogenated fats and sugar are often added to peanut butter, she said.
For ultimate freshness, she recommends making your own by grinding up shelled nuts in a food processor.
"The volume will be approximately half of what you started with, so one cup of nuts will yield about one-half cup of nut butter," she said. "The oil content of the nut will determine the smoothness or graininess of the spread. Higher-fat nuts make creamier paste."
Store the nut butter in the refrigerator. Before spreading, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
"Spread peanut butter on your morning waffle, whole-grain toast or midmorning crackers," Puett suggested. "Add a tablespoon of peanut butter to your morning smoothie."
For a quick, delicious sauce, combine peanut butter, coconut milk and ready-to-use Thai red or green curry paste. "Pour over healthy sautéed vegetables," she said, "[or] use as a cooking sauce for tofu or salmon."
To add life to cooked brown rice, toss with sesame oil, chopped peanuts, scallions, sweet red pepper, parsley and currants, she said.
Nuts also may be sprinkled into salads, yogurt, cereal, pasta and cooked vegetables as well as muffin or pancake batter.
Tara Plumlee, CEO of A Silverware Affair (www.a silverwareaffair.net), said that nuts are often used in her catering company's menu. Generally, pecans and walnuts are used in salads and desserts, pistachios in entrees and peanuts and peanut butter in certain pies and Asian sauces.
"They are great toppings for salads or can be candied for a sweet treat," she added. "The possibilities are really endless."
Plumlee, a vegetarian, said nuts are an easy way to add protein to one's diet.
"They can be eaten on the go, which is super great for my busy lifestyle, and are generally easily accessible," she said. "I travel with nuts in my bag everywhere I go for quick snacks, salad toppers at restaurants and the like."
Because nuts are high in fat, Puett recommends buying them in small quantities to prevent rancidity.
"Store in a cool, dry place since heat, light and humidity can speed up rancidity. Keep in the refrigerator or freezer for longer storage," she said.
Though nuts have many dietary benefits, they can be harmful to some people. According to kidshealth.org, peanuts are among the most common allergy-causing foods, and they often find their way into things you wouldn't imagine. Chili, for example, may be thickened with ground peanuts, the website noted. If allergy testing shows that someone has a peanut or tree nut allergy, a medical professional will provide guidelines on what to do.
"Peanuts aren't actually a true nut; they're a legume (in the same family as peas and lentils)," the information noted. "But the proteins in peanuts are similar in structure to those in tree nuts. For this reason, people who are allergic to peanuts can also be allergic to tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pistachios, pecans and cashews."
A Silverware Affair's Pistachio-Encrusted Fish
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried oregano
21/2 tablespoons mustard (honey, Dijon, spicy brown, whatever you like)
4 small fish fillets (any mild white fish), patted dry
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix pistachios, parmesan cheese and oregano in a blender or food processor, and pulse a few times to get coarse mixture. Pour the mixture onto a large plate, and spread it out until it forms a thin, flat layer.
Spread the mustard over the tops of the dry fish fillets, and dip the mustard-covered portion into the pistachio mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Place the fillets, crusted side facing up, on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 F for about 12 minutes or until the fish appears flaky.
-- Tara Plumlee
Pumpkin Nut Bread
Great as a snack, breakfast or dessert, this recipe makes one large loaf or two mini loaves. The bread also freezes well. Freeze on a plate six hours, wrap frozen loaf in heavy-duty aluminum foil and return to the freezer for up to six months.
2 cups all-purpose flour or 1 cup whole-wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or 1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup skim milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup each: chopped pecans and black walnuts (may substitute raisins or any combination to equal one cup)
Heat oven to 350 F.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, milk and eggs. Mix well. Add dry ingredients, oil and nuts, mixing until just moistened. Batter will be slightly lumpy. Do not overmix.
Spoon batter into well-greased (use vegetable oil) 9- by 5-inch loaf pan or two 71/2- by 33/4-inch loaf pans (may use aluminum pans). Place pans in middle of the oven and bake 65 minutes for a large loaf or 50 minutes for two mini loaves, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool 10 minutes in the pan. Use a knife to go around the edge of the pan to loosen bread from the sides of the pan, invert and cool on a cooling rack or plate. Slice and serve.
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
Mix ingredients, and stir until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.
1 cup walnut halves
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 325 F. Place walnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Combine honey, water and oil in a skillet, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, and stir in walnuts. Cook, stirring frequently until all liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Transfer nuts to a bowl. Combine sugar and salt, and toss with nuts. Spread nuts on a cookie sheet to cool and dry. Sprinkle on any salad. Store in an airtight container.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...