Every time I recommend eating more nuts, the typical response is: "Won't they make me fat?" The fact that nuts are perceived this way is troubling because any food can cause weight gain if too much is eaten and nuts are easy to overeat. While it is true that nuts are high in fat and calories, if eaten in moderation, nuts can contribute significantly to a healthy diet. This is because nuts contain mostly unsaturated fats. These fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) can help control cholesterol and aid in the prevention of heart disease. That is why they are called "good" fats and saturated/trans fats found in baked goods, ice cream, fried foods and some animal proteins are called "bad" fats. Nuts offer one of the best sources of plant proteins and are high in fiber. Nuts are also high in Vitamin E (an antioxidant) and selenium.
Keep in mind that an ounce (15 cashews) of nuts contains about 200 calories. Be sure to ration out your portion from the rest to control your intake. When you are using a peanut butter or other ground up nut butter, try to look for "natural" on the label. This is where the oil naturally separates and sits at the top of the jar when you buy it. These will likely have no trans fats in them and will be all natural. Just stir the oil in before using.
To avoid excess calories, try to limit your nut intake to 1 or 2 ounces per day. The best way to do this would be to replace a product high in saturated fat with nuts. Instead of chocolate chips, use nuts in baked goods. Eat some almonds or spread almond butter on some crackers instead of a candy bar. Mix ground up walnuts into a bowl of oatmeal. The options are endless.
Michael Murphy is a registered dietitian living in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach him at (480) 415-8803 or visit www.nutritiontoyou.com.