Let's go crazy. Let's eat nuts (and fruits)!
We hear all the time that eating as many veggies, fruits, and whole foods is vital to maintaining our overall health. The USDA MyPlate recommends that half your plate be fruits and veggies (roughly 1/3 veggies and ¼ fruits which are often higher in sugars) and roughly 1/3 is grains (including nuts and seeds). Here is a simple tip to get a little of both. Create your own "trail" mix! Most commercial mixes have roasted, salted nuts, (unecessary) processed chocolate, and sugar or preservative-enriched fruit. And many are primarily peanuts - while not BAD for you, peanuts are cheap and easy filler for these mixes. Maximize the diversity of your nutrients and flavor by making your own.
You have probably heard about how eating nuts, in moderation, is a great way to get quality nutrition. Nuts contain “heart-healthy” omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They also contain L-arginine, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols and antioxidants such as ellagic acid. Nuts can be awesome sources of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, manganese, and zinc. We know they are high in fat, we should eat them judiciously. Which nuts and how much?
The top 5 nuts vary according to who you ask but there seems to be general agreement that walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and brazil nuts top most lists. These all have good protein additional nutrients (you can find more here) and are excellent means to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol. According to livestrong.com most 1 oz. servings of nuts are about 160 – 185 calories. But what constitutes an ounce? The typical rule of thumb is that you are safe with a palm-ful of most. Here’s a great quiz to hone your visual ounce-detection skills http://www.fitsugar.com/What-One-Ounce-Nuts-Looks-Like-7545633/7.
When you are selecting nuts choose organic, non-irradiated, and raw as often as possible. Check your local co-op’s bulk bins. Trader Joe’s has a great selection as well. If you get a high volume of raw nuts you will want to refrigerate or freeze them to ensure that they don’t turn rancid (most raw nuts are not refrigerated at your grocer but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep them cool). Roasted nuts are less likely to spoil as fast but it let’s just assume that you got them to eat/use them soon.
Now, what to mix them with? You can get so many dried fruits these days that the nutrient rich foods have become a bit overwhelming. According to Fitday.com the best dried fruits for you are apple, apricot, mango, cherry, fig, papaya, blueberry, raisin, black current (like tiny raisins), plum (prune), pear, and tomato. Many of these are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins c (though much lower than the fresh fruits), a, and e and may contain folic acid, iron, and other vitamins and minerals. The key is to check for added sugar or preservatives. Organic is best to remove pesticides and added soil toxins. Avoid watermelon, pineapple, and banana chips as they are often loaded with sugar or fat and don’t provide much nutrition. Cranberries are great but should be unsweetened.
Put it all together and you have a powerful, filling snack for breakfast or your midday slump. Similarly you will get some of your vital servings of veggies and grains to complete your MyPlate meals for the day. If you are tracking your calories, measure out all ingredients added to your mix and portion out your servings accordingly. This will give you a reasonable average for total caloric consumption.
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