Do you picture snacks helping your heart and lowering your cholesterol while filling you up between meals? Snacking has gotten a bad name through the years, mostly due to the over-abundance of pre-packaged snack foods. But, snacking doesn’t have to be bad for you if you know what snacks to choose. As a matter of fact, snacking can be really good for you. Let’s take a look at one healthy food that should be considered an essential snack.

That little nut you have been snacking on is really a super food because of the unique combination of fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. This tiny powerhouse works hard lowering the risk of some significant diseases and health conditions.

Don’t let the fat content or calorie count of nuts worry you too much. Even though nuts are often high in calories and fat, they have ‘good’ fats and omega 3 fatty acids that lower bad cholesterol levels and help regulate blood pressure and healthy heart rhythms. The fiber content in nuts also helps control cholesterol and has been found to lower the risk for diabetes.

But that’s not all. Certain types of nuts also have plant sterols which is another cholesterol inhibitor. So important as a cholesterol inhibitor, as a matter of fact, that plant sterols are added to things like orange juice and margarine for the health benefits. And you’ve got it all right there in a nut.

In addition, vitamin E and the amino acid L-arginine are two elements that help reduce plaque in the circulatory system, which helps to prevent clots in arteries. Nuts have so many of these healthy elements that they may be one of the most powerful food you can eat to take care of your heart.

The important thing to remember with nuts is, like many other things in life, too much of a good thing isn’t really good. Since nuts are dense in calories and fat, a little goes a long way. For instance, just a dozen or so cashews can have up to 180 calories. For this reason, health experts recommend limiting your daily intake of most nuts to no more than a couple of ounces. This is actually good news for your budget, since adding nuts to your healthy diet requires only a small investment for such a big return.

So, what specific nuts are best to eat regularly? There isn’t really a lot of definitive research to suggest one type of nut is better than another. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and cashews are popular and easy to find in most regions. You’ll also find many recipes for these particular nuts, so it’s easy to incorporate nuts into your meals as well as your snacking.

Consider substituting chopped nuts for the chocolate chips in cookies, for example. Toss peanuts into a green salad or pasta salad for added nutrition and crunch. Use natural peanut butter on your morning toast instead of butter or jam. Walnuts are a classic choice to top a savory salad. Chop almonds up and toss in your vanilla yogurt for a nice crunch.

You can also grind almonds, peanuts, or other nuts into a coarse meal. Use this meal to coat chicken or fish instead of using cornmeal or flour when frying or baking. Grind the meal fine and add to smoothies in your blender. Almonds can be ground into a flour consistency and can be used in many dishes as a substitute for wheat flour. This gluten-free flour alternative has become very popular in recent years.

It’s best to buy shelled, unsalted, or minimally processed varieties of nuts in small quantities. You can also protect fresh nuts from oxidation by storing them in a cool, dark, dry place. Or you can store nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. The oils that naturally occur in nuts can become rancid if exposed to heat and air.

Adding small amounts of nuts to your diet will provide your body with big benefits. Choose a variety of nuts, store them properly, and enjoy a handful of crunchy nutrition every day.

Image courtesy of HealthAliciousNess on Flickr (CC BY 3.0)

Healthy Way to Cook provides convenient, simple ways to live better by eating better. We promote fresh, organic ingredients for a healthy body & healthy planet.