By Geoffrey R. Harris, MD
Wondering how to choose and store nuts? Well, you are not alone. Read on to find out how to choose these great SuperFoods and keep them safe and healthy.
Nuts are packed with healthy oils and natural antioxidants. They are high in plant protein and low in carbohydrates and starch. Nuts also contain dietary fiber and essential trace minerals. Consuming nuts is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, lower total cholesterol, and increased good cholesterol (HDL). But many people are confused on how to buy nuts and how to store them in a way that keeps them fresh and safe. Here are some tips for enjoying these SuperFoods:
- Buy raw nuts. The healthy oils and polyunsaturated fats in nuts are typically destroyed during commercial roasting. Temperatures over 170 degrees Fahrenheit will damage the sensitive oil molecules and cause the nuts to lose their benefit. If you prefer the taste of roasted nuts, then try roasting the raw nuts at home in an oven at 160 to 170 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes--Just be sure your oven doesn't run too hot. Use an oven thermometer if necessary.
- Buy fresh nuts. The oils in nuts can become rancid with prolonged exposure to air, heat, or light. The fresher the nuts, the better. Be sure to shop at a market where the produce turns over regularly.
- Store nuts in airtight containers in the refrigerator. The refrigeration will prevent the healthy oils and fats from degrading and becoming rancid. Nuts should last nine to twelve months when stored this way.
- Avoid candied nuts or honey-roasting. Nuts that have been processed with sugar and heat contain much lower levels of the healthy oils and antioxidants found in raw nuts and are more like candy than SuperFoods.
- Throw out nuts that have been stored longer than recommended. Freshness is important because nuts can become rancid long before they smell or taste funny. Keep the bag or make a label indicating the freshness date for the stored nuts.
- Avoid salted nuts. High sodium levels in salted nuts can raise blood pressure, and high sodium intake is associated with many chronic diseases.
- When possible, choose walnuts, almonds, or cashews because of their favorable oil contents. Walnuts actually contain short-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
- Be sure not to eat more than a handful a day. It is easy to overeat when enjoying nuts so don't eat out of the can, jar, or bag. Pour a handful into a dish and enjoy without overeating.
- Peanut or nut butter is another great way to enjoy nuts. Look for brands that contain only nuts or nuts with a little salt. Avoid peanut butter with hydrogenated oils, sugars, or other additives. Almond butter and cashew butter also taste great and are packed with healthy oils and antioxidants.
- Remember, nuts contain healthy fats. You can add nuts to salads and vegetables to improve the absorption of carotenoids and other fat-soluble nutrients from the meal.