With the holidays rapidly approaching, one of my friends recently asked me a great question. She was considering making homemade food gifts to give to her friends and coworkers but wanted to stay away from the usual heavy cookies and sweets. She asked me if there was a more nutritious option for holiday gift giving and I immediately thought of making homemade spiced nuts.
For a long time, nuts had a bad rap as being high in fat and unhealthy- something to be avoided when trying to follow a low fat diet. Well, it turns out that not all fats are created equal. Although nuts are high in fat (approximately 60% fat by weight), they are comprised mainly of unsaturated fats as opposed to the saturated fats found mainly in animal products like meat and cheese. The mono and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts are actually considered to be “good fats” and have been shown to lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. In addition, nuts are also a great source of protein and fiber and contain several other nutrients that have beneficial effects on heart health including Vitamin E, plant sterols, selenium, and L-arginine. These compounds provide various positive health benefits including lowering cholesterol, slowing the development of plaques in your arteries, improving the lining of arteries, and preventing blood clots.1
One of the first studies to show that nuts may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease was done almost 20 years ago.2
Since then, the majority of the epidemiologic studies that have looked at this relationship have reported similar findings.3,4
In 2003, the FDA approved the following health claim:
Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
This claim was approved specifically for 7 types of nuts- walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, pistachio nuts, and some pine nuts because these nuts contain less than 4 g saturated fat per 50 grams.
Before you get the urge to go out and consume a whole bag of nuts, keep this in mind. Although nuts have many health benefits, they are still high in calories and should be eaten in moderation. Instead of simply adding nuts to your diet, try using them to replace some of the foods in your diet that are high in saturated fat such as meats and cheese. For example, instead of topping your salad with bacon try some sliced almonds instead. Or instead of heaping cheese on your pasta, sprinkle on some chopped walnuts. And although it may be hard to resist going back for more, try to limit your intake to 1 to 2 ounces a day of unsalted nuts, which is about one or two handfuls.
This holiday season instead of buying spiced or candied nuts at the store, try making one of these recipes instead. Store-bought nuts can be loaded with sodium and sugar and often are expensive. Try buying an assortment of unsalted nuts in bulk instead and make your own favorite version to serve to your guests. They make great holiday gifts as well! My Holiday Spiced Nuts are dipped in healthy egg whites and then coated in a mixture of spices with an irresistible combination of sweet, spicy and smoky flavors. If you’re looking for a more savory recipe with fresh herbs and a hint of sweetness from honey, a natural sweetener, try my Rosemary & Honey Glazed Nuts. Happy Holidays!
Holiday Spiced Nuts
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
- 1 egg white
- 2 ½ cups assorted nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pecans
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper together in a medium bowl.
- Whip the egg white in another bowl with a whisk until light and frothy. Drop the nuts into the bowl and toss to combine. Remove the nuts, shaking off any excess egg white, and drop them into the bowl with the spice mix. Toss to coat all of the nuts with the spices.
- Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line the sheet with a non-stick baking mat. Spread the nuts on the sheet in a single layer and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove the nuts and let them cool on a wire rack. As they cool, they will crisp up. Serve right away or store in an airtight container for one week.
Rosemary & Honey Glazed Nuts
- 2 ½ cups assorted nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pecans
- 1 ½ teaspoons neutral-flavored oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided use
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Place the nuts in a large bowl. Add the oil, honey, sugar, cayenne, salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons rosemary and toss all ingredients with a spatula to combine. If the honey is very thick, you can microwave it for a few seconds to thin it out.
- Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line the sheet with a non-stick baking mat. Spread the nuts on the sheet in a single layer and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove the nuts from the oven and immediately toss them with the remaining ½ teaspoon rosemary. Cool the nuts on a wire rack. As they cool, they will crisp up. Serve right away or store in an airtight container for one week.
1 Kris-Etherton PM, et al. The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: Multiple potential mechanisms. Journal of Nutrition. 2008;138:1746S.
2 Fraser GE, Sabate J, Beeson WL et al. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. The Adventist Health Study. Archives of Internal Medicine 1992;152:1416–1424.
3 Sabate J, et al. Nut consumption and blood lipid levels: A pooled analysis of 25 intervention trials. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2010;170:821.
4 Kelly J Jr and Sabate J. Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. British Journal of Nutrition. 2006; 96, Suppl.2:S61-S67.