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Nuts for the holidays

Nuts for the holidays

When you think of holiday foods, what comes to mind?

  • cookies
  • eggnog
  • pie
  • candy
  • more cookies
  • candy canes
  • peppermint lattes
  • peanut brittle
  • fudge
  • plum pudding
  • gingerbread cookies

And… nuts? Nuts for baking, for snacking, for gifts. With the glut of sweets this time of year (see list), nuts can be a welcome relief.

Nuts are the seed of various trees and bushes, and in the case of peanuts, of a legume plant that spreads over the ground. Despite their varied origins, they are nutritionally very similar to each other. This chart compares some key nutrients of comparable 100 gram portions.

Nut Comparison

100 g whole unsaltedvolume of 100gcaloriesprotein gramsfat gramscarb gramsfiber grams
almonds0.7 cup (11 TB)59021.451.12010.8
Brazil nuts3/4 cup65914.367.111.77.5
cashews3/4 cup55318.243.830.23.3
hazelnuts3/4 cup6281560.816.79.7
peanuts2/3 cup56725.849.216.18.5
pecans (halves)1 cup6919.272149.6
pistachios3/4+ cup5722145.828.310.3
sunflower seeds2/3+ cup58219.349.824.111.1
walnuts (halves)1 cup65415.265.213.76.7
Nuts are compared based on the same weight. Note that the volume for this weight varies because different nuts take up different amounts of space.
Values are for whole nuts, except pecans and walnuts are for halves.
Values are for unsalted raw nuts.
“+” indicates the volume is slightly more.
These values are best estimates based on USDA values. Actual volumes and nutrient content may vary.

A few key differences stand out. Peanuts and almonds are notable for protein; pecans have the least protein. Walnuts, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts have higher fat content. Pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds have more fiber content. In general, they are good sources of minerals like potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as zinc and trace minerals. Brazil nuts are very high selenium. All provide B vitamins and vitamin E.

Nuts are high fat, and most of that fat is monounsaturated, which is healthier. Keep them in the refrigerator, if you won’t use them up in a timely fashion; this prevents the fats from going rancid. Another good feature: low sugar, unless you buy flavored/sugared varieties.

Other good news about nuts:

  1. convenient for snacking on the go. They don’t need refrigeration, and they aren’t messy.
  2. fit into all diet types, from Mediterranean to vegan to conventional. They’re a great protein source for vegan and vegetarian diets. I recommend including nuts in your diet no matter what plan you follow. Why? They’re satisfying and loaded with nutrients.
  3. taste good! They’re versatile, and fit into lots of different recipes, from cookies to quick breads to casseroles, grain bowls and salads.
  4. add rich flavor to bakery items like cookies or cakes.
  5. Pecan pie.
  6. make great hostess gifts.

Caution! Nuts are easy to overeat. They taste good (especially if you buy salted/flavored/sugar coated varieties), and are low volume, so you don’t feel full until you’ve eaten too many. Portion them out to avoid calorie trouble. Avoid overstimulating your taste buds by sticking to raw or dry roasted varieties for snacking.

Top choice?

I’m not sure any one of these is overall better than another. Depends on your priorities.

  • Peanuts: for protein, cost and availability, you can’t beat peanuts.
  • Pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts for baking, or add to your morning oatmeal
  • Mixed nuts for snacking

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