Go Nutty for Nut Nutrition

Image by cohdra courtesy of morguefile.com

“Mom, don’t forget to buy peanuts at the store! Please don’t get the kind with the honey on them, just some salt,” my daughter noted. She was 8 at the time.

At the sound of the word “peanut,” my then-3-year-old opened the silverware drawer, found a spoon and asked for some peanut butter to fill her spoon. She thought a bit, changed her mind and put the spoon away. She reached toward the cupboard.

“Mama, I want a bowl of peanut butter!” she exclaimed.

I think she learned this stunt from her older brother.

Yes, my family has been nuts about peanuts for a long time. My kids are now 17, 14 and 9. I really don’t mind their adoration of all things peanutty. There are lots of good things to say about the wide variety of nuts that are available.

First, let’s talk about terminology. Most nuts, including walnuts and cashews, grow on trees. Peanuts do not. Also called ground nuts, peanuts actually are members of the legume family, along with beans and peas. Because of their appearance and use, peanuts usually are grouped with the nut family.

Nuts provide protein and vitamins, such as vitamins A and E. They’re good sources of minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Some, such as almonds and Brazil nuts, also contain a fair amount of calcium. Nuts contain fiber, with almonds, pecans and pistachios being some of the fiber leaders.

Nuts are energy-dense because of the fat they contain. The good news: The fat in nuts is mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which are heart-healthy.

In fact, nuts can carry a qualified health claim, according to the Food and Drug Administration: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Nuts are fairly high in calories at upwards of 200 calories per ounce. On the positive side, for those on weight-loss diets, nuts have been shown to stave off the munchies by satisfying hunger longer. To avoid weight gain, however, mind your portion size.

A container of nuts can disappear fairly quickly, though, unless you divide the nuts into portions. If you or your family members enjoy the flavor and crunchiness of nuts, consider buying preportioned 1-ounce packages.

Instead of bringing a container of nuts to enjoy during a TV show, place a small amount in a bowl. Place snack-size amounts in zip-lock plastic bags. To pace yourself even more, buy nuts in the shell. Then you need to work a little for the reward inside.

Store the nuts in airtight containers and in a cool, dark place. Keeping nuts in the refrigerator or freezer helps protect the fat they contain from becoming rancid.

When bringing foods to events, however, be aware that nut allergies are some of the most common and can be life-threatening. Food products that contain nuts or other allergens must state that fact on the ingredient label.

Here’s a recipe from the Pennsylvania Nutrition Network. Serve with fruit preserves for extra flavor.

Peanut Butter Muffins

3/4 c. chunky peanut butter (or substitute plain)
2 Tbsp. honey
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1 c. flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray with cooking spray or line 12 muffin cups with paper baking cups. Place the peanut butter and honey in a mixing bowl and blend. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add the milk and mix well. Mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture. Stir just until moistened. Fill each muffin cup two-thirds full. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes until golden brown. Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving (one muffin) has 220 calories, 9 grams (g) of fat, 27 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of fiber.

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