Ask a diabetes educator about what you can have as a snack and inevitably (s)he will mention nuts. When she does you won’t wince or twist your mouth into a moue of polite disdain Crunchy, with a slightly sweet, rich aroma they beckon you at a party from the bowl across the room. This is a snack you can actually agree upon.
A nut is actually a hard-shelled, dried- out fruit that contain seeds. Many of the foods we think of as nuts are botanically speaking something else. For example, peanuts are legumes and cashews are seeds. True nuts are compound ovaries, in which the seed and fruit is combined. In fact, many true nuts—acorns, hazelnuts and hickories—aren’t even eaten. But be they legitimate heirs to the title or bogus botanical poseurs, nuts are good food.
They are a good source of vegetarian protein and are rich in healthful fat. Most nuts contain monounsaturated fat which can help lower your LDL cholesterol. They also contain appreciable amounts of vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, manganese, zinc and phosphorus. There are even two nuts, Brazil and almonds, that can help you meet your daily calcium requirement. Not too shabby a showing for a single food.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) recommends that you include 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds and legumes in your diet per week–DASH has proven to help reduce blood pressure and is one suggested diet for people with diabetes.
In fact, the FDA allows manufacturers to make the following health claim about the benefits of nuts and heart disease for certain nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts) “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.” Other nuts are higher in saturated fat so do not meet the criteria.
In addition to all their healthful properties, nuts can be a boon for someone with diabetes. Because they are low in carbohydrate but high in protein and fat, a small amount can stave off the hungry-horrors between meals without putting a dent in your glucose control. If you have heart disease or high cholesterol, they can be substituted for high saturated fat protein, such as red meat.
They can also be used to change a high glycemic index meal into a lower one. Feel like having cereal for breakfast but concerned that your blood glucose will spike too high? Add ¼ to 1/3 cup of nuts to the meal and you may see a more level glucose curve. (Glucose response to specific foods varies among individuals, your response may not mimic others.)
Unfortunately you probably shouldn’t eat unlimited quantities because they are very high in calories. If you keep your portions to between ¼ and 1/3 cup no more than twice a day you will reap the benefits without succumbing to the dangers.
What’s a serving?
On most packages a serving of nuts is 1 oz or ¼ cup. In terms of amounts that is 14 walnuts halves or 20 almonds. To substitute nuts for a meat or protein serving the amount is 1/3 cup.
Ways to use them!
- Raw, unsalted from the container to the hand
- Added as a protein source in stir-frys, stews and casseroles
- As a topping for yogurt or cottage cheese
- Mixed with fruit for a sweet and savory treat
- Toasted as part of a vegetable dish.
- To toast nuts, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for 10to 15 minutes. When halfway through the cooking time, shake them up so both sides toast evenly.
- You can also toast nuts in a skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Stir frequently until they turn slightly brown and smell inviting.