Did you know November is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month? (It’s also National Stuffing Month, but we’ll save that for Thanksgiving.) Being a peanut butter lover myself, I spent some time a couple of weeks ago scouring the Internet for some tasty vegan peanut butter recipes to share, which have been popping up on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in recent weeks.
I also got to thinking about nuts as part of a plant-based diet. Nuts seem to be either much maligned or joyfully celebrated depending on dietary views. Some people avoid them like the plague, fearing their high fat content. Others liberally munch on them and merrily drizzle nut-based sauces on anything and everything. I fall somewhere in between, preferring to get a dose of whole-food fats from a variety of nuts and seeds every day without going overboard.
There’s no reason to avoid these nutritional powerhouses in your own diet. Nuts are much more than a source of unprocessed fats, and looking at the top three healthiest choices shows why they deserve a place on your plate. (Or in your hand, on salads, in baked goods…)
Almonds are a personal favorite of mine. Back when there was a shortage of Trader Joe’s raw almond butter, I freaked out when I found jars of it at the Northampton location and promptly bought every single one. I’ve also been known to snack on apples, raisins and almonds pretty habitually in the afternoon to the point where I still refer to the combination as the “old-school Sam snack.”
While you don’t have to be quite so obsessive, it’s a good idea to munch on almonds or enjoy almond butter stuffed dates once and a while. Almonds contain high levels of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Eating the skins increases the antioxidant power.
Compared to other nuts, almonds are high in fiber (3.5 grams per ounce) and protein (6 grams per ounce). They’re also an excellent source of biotin, part of the B vitamin family responsible for helping to metabolize macronutrients, keep nerves healthy and aid in amino acid production. Monounsaturated fats support a healthy heart and cholesterol levels, and eating almonds has been shown to be beneficial for blood sugar levels.
Almonds are perfect in muffins, sprinkled on salads, stirred into oatmeal or used as garnish on Moroccan-spiced dishes!
For years, my mom has made the pumpkin pie from The Joy of Vegan Baking for Thanksgiving. The recipe calls for exactly 16 pecan halves, which I’ve diligently picked up from the co-op’s bulk section just in time for baking.
It turns out you don’t need to make excuses to garnish dishes with (or scarf down) pecans during the holidays. The nutritional profile speaks for itself:
- 12 grams of monounsaturated fat per ounce
- Lowers LDL and raises HDL for a more favorable cholesterol balance
- High in antioxidants, including carotenes and ellagic acid
- High in B vitamins for energy production and metabolism
- Good source of trace minerals, including copper, manganese, phosphorous and zinc
- Packed with anti-inflammatory magnesium, which may help lower blood pressure
Of course, if you’re eating pecans covered in sugar or as part of a gooey pie, you’re getting a lot of bad along with the good. Stick to raw or lightly toasted nuts most of the time, and save the treats for special occasions. (Sweet potato casserole, anyone?)
Walnuts are stars when it comes to omega-3 content. High in polyunsaturated fats, these nuts have been studied quite a bit for their heart-healthy qualities. Omega-3s reduce inflammation and promote good blood flow, making them key players in cardiovascular health. One study showed walnuts may be beneficial for bones, too, citing a correlation between high consumption and lower levels of certain bone turnover markers in the body.
Tossing some walnuts on your salad or in your granola also delivers:
These all have antioxidant properties, with tannins in particular showing anti-carcinogenic and antimicrobial effects. Some of the antioxidants found in walnuts are hard to get from other foods, so make room for them in your meals whenever you can.
In a (Healthy) Nutshell
I chose these three nuts as “the healthiest” based on Dr. Michael Greger’s video ranking nuts by antioxidant content and several other sources linked throughout the post. But that doesn’t mean other nuts aren’t just as good for you! Peanuts, for example (because, hey, Peanut Butter Lover’s Month!), are high in protein, monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and important trace minerals. Macadamia nuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios and their other nutty companions are also worth checking out.
So go ahead, get creative. Have some peanut butter toast in the morning. Sprinkle pecans in your salad. Try out cashew butter in your next cookie recipe.
Or get your fix any time of day with these nutty ideas:
- Ridiculously Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal
- Healthy Pumpkin Muffins with Nuts and Seeds
- Zesty Fruity Oaty Cherry Almond Muffins
- Sweet Potato Almond Butter Sauce
Need help making nuts (and other healthy foods) a regular part of your diet? I can get you on track! Start a consulting program with GreenGut Wellness today to get a personalized health plan.