By Sara Colman, Balanced Habits RDN, CDE
Increasing your intake of nuts and seeds can enhance your health. And the good news is it does not take a large amount. Consider the amount you can fit in the palm of your hand as a health-promoting portion.
Health benefits of nuts and seeds
- Relaxes artery walls to decrease cardiovascular disease risk
- May help lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure
- Associated with reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease
- Great source of healthy fats
- Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds
- Enhance microbiota of the gut
A typical serving size for seeds is 1⁄2 to 1 ounce or about 1 to 2 tablespoons. This includes chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds. For nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts a serving is 1 ounce. Check the Balanced Habits portion lists to determine how much to include in your plan.
Nuts and seeds are high in calories due to the high healthy fat content. For this reason try to avoid setting down with a whole container of nuts for a snack. Some studies indicate nuts may help with weight control. This may be related to increased satiety from nuts and seeds added to a meal or snack.
For a 1 ounce serving of nuts or seeds you will get 150 to 200 calories, 2.3 to 6.7 g protein, 12 to 20 g fat and 1 to 3 g fiber. A primary heart-healthy fat in nuts and seeds is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Nuts contain an assortment of micronutrients, including vitamin E, folate, niacin, riboflavin, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
In addition to these nutrients, nuts and seeds contain phytochemicals (think plant immune system) such as carotenoids, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and phytosterols. These are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds associated with good health and disease prevention.
Ideas for incorporating nuts and seeds
- Sprinkle on a salad
- Add to your favorite smoothie
- Include in homemade muffins and cookies
- Spread nut butters on bread, crackers or celery sticks
- Add to hot cereals or grains during cooking (chia seeds) or as a topping (almonds)
Considering the benefits of including even a small daily portion of nuts and seeds, you’d be “nuts” not to enhance your meal planning with these small but powerful foods!