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Health Nuts

From a nutrition perspective, I can’t think of a better snack than nuts. Dry-roasted or plain, salted or unsalted, nuts pack in healthful fats, a host of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and little sodium (even some salted ones have as little as 95 milligrams sodium per ounce). While a one-ounce serving of nuts has more calories than pretzels, it also comes with protein and fat, staving off hunger for longer than many starchy or sugary snacks.

And I’m not the only one who knows nuts are good, as a stand-alone snack or an ingredient in recipes. Some of the latest research on these nutrient rich nuggets shows promise:

A review of studies published in 2001 showed that consuming just one ounce of nuts — of any variety — up to five times a week is likely to help reduce the risk of heart disease. (However, the results cite that it’s not just a matter of adding nuts. One must replace other calories consumed with the nuts as well as swap some of the artery-clogging saturated fat for the healthy types of fat in nuts.)

The Nurses Health Study of more than 85,000 subjects also linked nut eaters with a lower risk of heart disease risk factors than those who did not consume nuts.

While vitamin E in supplement form hasn’t shown to be effective in promoting health benefits, almonds supply vitamin E, an antioxidant, which may — along with other nutrients in the nut — help prevent “bad” LDL cholesterol oxidation, supporting heart health.

The May 2008 Journal of Nutrition issue includes a preliminary study, possibly helping to explain the almond’s heart healthy attributes. The article identifies additional antioxidants contained in the skin of whole almonds, which may play a role in reducing oxidative stress as well as reducing LDL cholesterol.

So instead of munching on animal crackers or pretzels, try a serving of whole almonds. You’ll gain heart-healthy benefits along with a satiating snack.

Quick Tip: Portion size matters. One ounce of almonds equals about 22 nuts, enough to cover a square sticky note pad or enough to fill a quarter-cup dry measuring cup. This serving size supplies about 164 calories, 3.4 grams fiber, and 15 grams fat (though only 1 gram saturated fat). The trick is managing portion size and calories, which is hard to do with the satisfying crunch and delicate flavor of almonds.

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Kathy Kitchens-Downie, RD, is an Associate Food Editor for Cooking Light.