Nutrition, Secret Ingredient

In a Nutshell

By Leslie Wall
Dietetic Intern

Why are dietitians so crazy about nuts and seeds?! Nuts and seeds are morsels of heart healthy fats that can be added to meals and snacks or eaten alone. They pack a nutrient-dense punch of vitamins, minerals, and heart healthy fats that can lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. They are also an excellent source of protein and fiber that help us feel full and satisfied, and add texture and flavor to many dishes.

Nuts and seeds vary in shape and size, and can be prepared in a variety of ways including toasted, roasted, raw, blanched, and salted. Aim to add a variety of nuts and seeds in their most natural form to your diet—raw or dry roasted are great choices. A serving of nuts is 1 ounce (about a palm full). Try mixing it up, as each variety of nuts and seeds contain different vitamins and minerals.

The MVPs of Nuts and Seeds – Here is a list of our favorites.

1. Almonds: Available year round, these nuts are rich in calcium, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and phosphorus.

2. Cashews: High in antioxidants. Has a buttery taste when pureed, and often used to replace cheese sauces in vegan dishes. Chop and sprinkle on pizza for a meaty, flavorful texture.

3. Pecans: Buttery and slightly bittersweet, they’re typically used in pies, quick breads, cakes, cookies, candies and ice cream.

4. Pine Nuts: The edible seeds of pine trees, pine nuts are the key ingredient in fresh pesto and are out of this world sprinkled over salads, pasta, and pizza.

5. Flax Seeds: The richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Add to breads, cookies, pancake mix, yogurt, and smoothies or sprinkle on cereal and salads.

6. Pumpkin Seeds (a.k.a. Pepitas): A great source of potassium, zinc and vitamin K. Roasted pumpkin seeds can be eaten alone as a snack, or and in salads and breads.

7. Sunflower Seeds: Sunflowers belong to the daisy family and are native to North America. The seeds are high in selenium, vitamin E and magnesium. Shelled seeds are delicious eaten raw or toasted, added to cakes and breads or sprinkled on salads or cereals.

Tips for Toasting: While nuts and seeds are certainly delicious eaten raw, toasting them on the stove or in the oven enhances their flavor.

  • On the stove: Place nuts in a skillet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat. Shake and stir nuts until they’re golden brown and fragrant, then remove from the pan immediately and allow to cool.
  • In the oven: Arrange a single layer of nuts or seeds in a shallow baking pan and toast in a 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Summer Recipe

Homemade Granola Bars ~ FitDay
Perfect for hiking, camping, and snacking.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services)






Fall Feast

It seems like just yesterday we were enjoying the long lazy days of summer, spending our days at the beach having cookouts with our friends and neighbors.  Now, the air has taken on the unmistakable chill that says fall is here.  The changing of the seasons brings to mind many things:  leaves changing colors, the beginning of a new school year, a reminder that winter is just around the corner.  The start of fall also reminds many people of Halloween and anticipate another year of carving pumpkins, putting up spooky decorations, designing a costume—and an abundance of candy. 

Just looking at the store shelves overflowing with bags and bags of every type of candy imaginable, it’s easy to believe the sugary confections are the main focus of Halloween.  Being surrounded by so many tempting treats can be overwhelming, especially when coupled with the common belief that having Diabetes means those treats are “off limits.”  

The good news is, with careful planning you can incorporate almost anything into your meal plan, even candy.  The American Diabetes Association has information on serving size and carb counts for many popular types of candy.  But Halloween doesn’t have to be all about candy—there are other seasonal foods and snacks that are both tasty and nutritious.  

Roasted pumpkin seeds are a popular fall snack that are high in protein and contain heart healthy fats that may help lower bad cholesterol.  Best of all, they’re easy to prepare at home.  When you’ve finished carving your pumpkin, save the seeds and wash them in cold water to remove the pulp.  After they’ve been dried, sprinkle with a little salt or your favorite seasonings and bake until golden brown.  Or, you can mix pumpkin seeds with peanuts, cereal and raisins in this recipe for Pumpkin Seed and Cluster Snack Mix from the American Diabetic Association.  

The seeds of many other winter squash varieties can be dried and roasted into snacks as well, and the meat can be used in a variety of side and main dishes.  Butternut squash, for example, can be easily baked or pureed and served along with Thanksgiving dinner, or served as a main course in butternut squash soup or bisque.  Pair your bisque or other fall soup with a spinach salad such as this Spinach and Orange Salad with Pumpkin Seeds.  Spinach is high in vitamin A, a key nutrient for maintaining eye health, and when cooked is a good source of calcium and iron. 

This is just a small sampling of the foods the season has to offer.  The fall is peak season for vegetables such as sweet potatoes, eggplants, and Brussels sprouts, and some varieties of fruits such as apples, pears and grapes.  Do you have a favorite fall food?  Share in the comments section below.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department. Photo credit: Shaun W)