By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D., lead nutritionist for TheBestLife.com
Now that a new study found that regular nut eaters are less likely to develop a number of diseases, including biggies like heart disease and cancer, I feel even better about all the nuts I eat. While I do snack on nuts, I tend to use them more as part of a meal. Staying conscious of their high-calorie content, I often sub them in for other foods—not in addition to. For instance, instead of sprinkling feta on a salad, I’ll top it with sunflower seeds or pecans.
Besides being so tasty, nuts provide healthy fat—the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated types. These fats keep our cell membranes healthy, reduce the risk for heart disease, and play other roles in the body. Plus, you need a little fat in the meal for satiety (keeping you feeling full for longer).
Here’s how I use nuts (and seeds, which also have health-promoting properties) in meals:
In smoothies: 1 tablespoon of almond or peanut butter along with milk or soymilk and a banana makes a complete breakfast.
Atop cereal: The 2 to 3 tablespoons I typically add are often the only fat in my skim-milk-fruit-cereal breakfast.
Toasted on salads: About 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds or pecans work particularly well, I’ve found.
In Asian-style dishes: Sesame seeds (about 2 teaspoons per serving) make a great complement to anything containing Asian sesame oil, such as stir-fries or marinated vegetables. And 1 tablespoon or 2 of chopped peanuts to nicely round out a soy sauce, ginger, and garlic-infused stir-fry.
Sprinkled on soups: A classic is 1 to 2 tablespoons of toasted pumpkin seeds on squash or pumpkin soup.
Ground into pesto: While I love the traditional pesto with pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and olive oil, I’ve subbed in toasted pumpkin seeds and walnuts for excellent results.
Ground into tapenade: Just the other night, I was very pleased with my concoction of equal parts olives and pecans with fresh thyme and olive oil. (I used a mortar and pestle, but next time I’ll use food processor—it’s worth the cleanup as the manual labor was a little much).
In grain pilafs: Toasted pine nuts and pistachios are my favorites—aim for about 1 tablespoon per serving.
As a sauce: Think Thai peanut sauce (satay) or curry based on ground cashews and coconut milk.