Aren’t you a little tired of constantly being told what you can and can’t eat all year through to either lose weight or simply recapture or maintain your healthy vibrance?
But now it’s the holidays!!!! Time to party and eat to your heart’s content!!!
Hold that thought! What if there was a food category that allowed you to be both naughty and nice???
That food is NUTS! I have to admit, my love of nuts goes wwwaaaaaayyyy back. When I was a kid (I know I’m dating myself here), the corner drug store always had a glass enclosed, rotating display of warm roasted nuts. I’d always ask my Mom if we could buy some, but the answer was always the same: “No, they cost too much.” So, as a kid my dreams usually involved a hot nut display that I could never actually eat, I could only look at them. That love of nuts only grew as I grew older. My obsession was so great that at one time I seriously contemplated opening my own store, aptly called “The Nut House”. However, what I did instead was to incorporate these bite-sized, flavor and power packed gems into my personal and family intake on a weekly basis. Voilá! Childhood yearning (naughty) with a healthy twist (nice) accomplished.
Nuts can be a very important part of a healthy diet, having that fat and crunchy mouthfeel we all crave. But, at the same time, nuts can be a supporting actor or the centerpiece of a great recipe that quenches those forbidden cravings we all want to surrender to at holiday time.
First, the “nice”:
- Heart Disease Fighter- The science is rock-solid behind incorporating nuts into your daily diet by significantly lowering your risk of heart disease. In the Nurses Health Study, Health Professional’s Follow-up study (New England Journal of Medicine 2013), Iowa Women’s Study (Nutrition Metabolism Cardiovascular Disease 2001), and the Adventist’s Study (Archives of Internal Medicine 1992) researchers found a significant 30-50% lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks from consuming nuts on a regular basis. Why is that? The content of the amino acid arginine in the nuts is thought to be a major health player, making the arterial walls more pliable and being a necessary ingredient for the molecule nitric oxide which eases blood flow by relaxing blood vessels. And, let’s not forget about the high monounsaturated fat count nuts bring to the table since nuts are a bountiful source of this health-giving fat. Monounsaturated fat, as part of a healthy diet (think Mediterranean here folks) improves your overall cholesterol profile, also lowering your risk of heart disease.
- Maintaining and Losing Weight- I know it’s counter-intuitive to think a food group that is predominantly composed of fat can actually not only be good for you but you can also help you maintain a healthy weight by consuming it on a regular basis (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013). It’s also been shown to assist in losing weight.
My advice? If you really want to start incorporating nuts in your diet for their health benefits AND either weight loss or maintenance goals are on your mind:
a. Buy the nuts in the shells and portion them out. It SSSSLLLLOOOOWWWWSSSS you down:
Do you see the little bowl of portioned pistachio nuts by the big bowl? That represents 1 oz. or the recommended daily portion of nuts to achieve those much coveted health results!
b. Decrease your daily amount of starchy carbs and supplement with nuts instead – Eat one less portion of say, mashed potatoes per day and substitute 1 oz. of nuts instead. I promise you, nuts will fill you up faster while satisfying the fat and crunchy mouthfeel you crave, all with the end result of receiving the health benefits, along with quicker satiety because of the fat/fiber punch nuts offer.
Nuts can stand by themselves as a snack or as an addition to any dish: salads, soups, vegetables, desserts and the list goes on and on. To enhance those dishes some nut preparation ideas are always “nice” to pull out of your chef coat .
Now, the “naughty” and “nice” culinary applications:
- Toasting- Generally speaking, raw nuts can really be enhanced, that is both intensifying flavor and crunch before adding it to your “naughty” or “nice” recipe by toasting them. Just toast them in a small frying pan on the stovetop with no oil. Watch them carefully for burning, especially those high fat content nuts like pecans. They are done when they are fragrant and have turned a golden color. Remove them from the pan immediately as they will continue to cook if left in the pan.
- Pesto- This is a traditional Italian sauce with the customary main ingredients being garlic, basil, olive oil, parmesan and pine nuts, blended into a creamy consistency. However, all bets are off for these particular ingredients being the main players in the new pesto frontier! You can make pesto from a myriad of greens (i.e. spinach, kale, swiss chard) and with a plethora of nut choices (i.e. almonds, pistachios, pecans). The sky is the limit for the creamy texture and umami taste of a variety of nuts with your own creative pesto choices!
- Shaving- Brazil nuts are a really tough nut to crack (literally) in culinary applications. They are so large and unwieldy. In the past, they have only been relegated to snack status. However, I’m asking you to just try this application. First toast the brazil nuts then get out your microplane (that is a very fine grater) and shave the Brazil nuts over a dish you’d just like to add a little fat mouthfeel to along with a delightful culinary presentation! It looks like molecular gastronomy snow!!! Brazil nuts are only one of many nuts you can shave on top of the culinary dish of your choice! And here’s a bonus for you guys: Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a prostate healthy trace mineral!
Finally, the “Naughty” Holiday Treats- Okay, I’m owning up to this. These are some of the holiday “naughty” treats that I fix every year, year after year, because, yes, you guessed it, nuts are the main ingredients!!!:
And do you know what? I really enjoy these yearly holiday treats and I encourage you also to make holiday “naughty” nut treats. Just remember, slowly enjoy each bite, no reason to totally stuff yourself like there’s no tomorrow (hey, I speak from experience here) at holiday time. Just enjoy the special holiday foods along with all of the other blessings the holidays bring to all of us!
Recap of Nuts: Naughty and Nice for the Holidays
1. The “Nice”:
a. Science has proven that incorporating nuts into your daily diet lowers your risk of heart disease and heart attacks and helps you maintain and lose weight
1) Nut advice for health:
a) Buy nuts in the shell and portion them out.
b) Eat fewer starchy carbs and supplement with nuts.
2. “Naughty” and “Nice” culinary applications:
3. “Naughty” Holiday Treats- Just enjoy your special holiday treats of the season by savoring every bite and taking in all the other many joys of the holidays!
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! As my gift to you, this is the recipe my husband’s grandmother passed down to all of us, Grandma G.G. Her special Iced Almonds are magnificent because of their wonderful buttery salty/sweet taste, along with their crunchy mouthfeel from the toasted almonds. But truly their simplicity makes them absolutely irresistible! (Hint: Make more than you think you’ll need….your household elves might “sample” them away before the party!!!)
2 cups slivered almonds
1 cup sugar
4 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
- Spread a cookie pan length of aluminum foil on a surface that can withstand heat. I used a large wooden cutting board for my surface. This is for the almonds when they have achieved “doneness.”
- Heat almonds, sugar and butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat.
- Stir constantly! Never stop stirring or you will end up with grainy, unappealing sugary almonds.
- Stir for about 15-20 minutes, waiting for the sugar to completely caramelize. You know you have a completed product when the little sugary lumps totally disappear and the caramelized almonds have achieved a golden brown color.
- Take the almonds off of the heat and stir in the vanilla.
- Spread the almonds out on the aluminum foil. Sprinkle with salt.
- Let the iced almonds cool then break them up and store them in the container of your choice.
*This recipe is dedicated and taught to me by my husband’s wonderful Grandma Tobler, Grandma G.G.