Nut of the Day

Nuts

When my friend mentioned the “nut of the day,” I thought she was talking about someone who captured his 15 minutes of fame in a wackadoo viral video on the Internet.

Not so. She meant exactly what she said: A daily dose of protein packed in a tiny snack-size serving.

Christine and her children are vegetarians, and the subject came up when I asked what she packs in her kids’ lunchboxes each day. Whatever it is, it’s working, I thought, because her kids are strong, daring, beautiful creatures.

So here’s the lunch plan: A vegetarian main course, sometimes left over from the night before. Something sweet. Something savory. A fruit serving. And a nut of the day. It’s different throughout the week. Today, the almond. Tomorrow, the pistachio.

Nuts are bite-sized natural treats loaded with goodness. They’re high in protein, fiber, antioxidants and mono-unsaturated fat. If you’re trying to remember your fat facts, mono-unsaturated is the good-for-you kind, unlike trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol. The American Heart Association is among organizations that encourage people to boost their intake of mono-unsaturated fats to promote heart health.

Although they don’t call it something as fun as nut of the day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does support daily nut intake — with a caveat. Rather than snacking on handfuls of nuts, the USDA advises eating small portions as a replacement for other protein foods, like meat or poultry. In addition, the USDA recommends unsalted nuts and seeds as the best choices, to keep sodium intake in check.

Research shows eating peanuts and certain tree nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease and help control and prevent some complications of obesity. People with Type 2 diabetes who consumed 2 ounces of nuts daily as a replacement for carbohydrates were better able to control their glycemic and serum lipid levels, according to a study published by researchers from the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences in the journal Diabetes Care.

Knowing when to say when to nuts can be a problem, though, because they are so easy to love. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends 1.5 ounces of nuts daily, which is roughly equal to 1/3 cup. Sometimes the term “about a handful” is used to define one serving of nuts. Here are some more specific guidelines:

● One serving of protein generally measures 4 inches by 4 inches and is equivalent to a 2-ounce meat serving plus 2 teaspoons of oil.

● Almonds: One serving = 1 ounce, equal to about 25

● Cashews: One serving = 1 ounce, equal to about 13

● Walnuts: One serving = 1 ounce, equal to about 9

● Peanuts: One serving = 1 ounce, equal to about 28

● Pistachios: One serving = 1 ounce, equal to about 45

Like other proteins, nuts and seeds supply many nutrients, including B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, enzymes and hormones.