JEFF TIEDEMAN: Go nuts!Add flavor, crunch and nutrition to your favorite dishes.
I’m a sucker for nuts. Just ask anyone who’s ever put a bowl of them in front of me.
I don’t remember exactly when my penchant for nuts began. It might have been that first time my mom made the holiday snack mix I’ve so looked forward to every Christmas season since my youth. The mix contains several kinds of nuts — Brazil, walnuts, cashews, filbert (from hazelnut), almonds, pecans and peanuts — as well as mini-pretzels and Wheat Chex.
Mom always gives me a bag of the mix, along with a generous helping of Christmas cookies during the giving season. It’s one of the gifts I most look forward to receiving.
The extent of my combining nuts with other foods is rather limited. I’ve made pesto — an Italian delicacy that’s often sprinkled over pasta — with both pine nuts and walnuts as well as a couple of batches of a tasty peanut soup that has its roots in Africa. (Some consider the peanut a legume, not a nut, but the jury still is out, since others consider its culinary definition rather than its botanical one.)
But recently, I’ve been looking over some recipes that feature nuts prominently that might change my thinking, especially one that combines pine nuts with shrimp and is served with a side dish of basil-broccoli penne pasta and a second for pork chops stuffed with walnuts and figs (another favorite of mine).
Not only do nuts add flavor and crunch to dishes such as the one for sauteed shrimp and the sometimes bland pork chops, they’re also very nutritious.
While it’s a fact that nuts contain a lot of fat (and calories), if they’re eaten in small quantities — a serving is just 2 to 4 tablespoons — this highly nutritious food can help protect you against cardiovascular disease.
Nuts are rich sources of a type of omega-3 fat (a polyunsaturated) called alpha-linolenic acid, which belongs to the same family of omega-3 fats as the heart-healthy ones you may have read or heard about in cold water fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to:
— Lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (When elevated, these are both risk factors for heart disease.)
— Decrease platelet aggregation, which, when excessive, can cause “sticky” blood, a condition in which clumps of red blood cells may form a clot that blocks a narrowed artery, triggering a heart attack or a stroke.
— Reduce the formation of artery-clogging atherosclerotic plaque. (When atherosclerotic plaque builds up in the blood vessels, blood flow is decreased to a minimum or stopped all together, precipitating a heart attack or stroke.)
— Reduce inflammation of the blood vessels. (If blood vessels are inflamed, or swollen, blood flow is reduced.)
— Lower blood pressure (another a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes).
Nuts also are a good source of plant protein, which is needed not only to build and maintain all body tissues but for a healthy immune system. A handful of nuts also provides you with fiber, which helps keep your digestive tract, specifically your colon, in good health.
And if you’re looking to lose some weight, nuts may even help. Their combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats helps keep blood sugar levels stable, which will help you from getting hungry too soon after eating.
Pass the nuts, please.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.