February is American Heart Month, so it’s time to do something good for your heart. Healthy eating and an active lifestyle help keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease. This means eating fewer processed foods and sugary drinks and getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and protein—especially plant-based proteins such as whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, soy, seeds, and nuts. Eating nuts is a delicious way to help your heart!
Nuts contain healthy fats—including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—protein, fiber, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals, along with powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals. Nuts have been shown to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Recent research from the University of Georgia shows that a diet high in polyunsaturated fats, found in foods like walnuts and salmon, may provide protection against the negative health effects of eating foods that are high in saturated fats, like meat, butter, and cheese.
Raw or roasted unsalted nuts are the best choices. Salted nuts are higher in sodium; so it’s best to opt for unsalted options. Although nuts are high in calories, eating them as part of a healthy diet is usually not associated with weight gain and may even help with weight loss. According to Nutrition Australia, a healthy daily intake of nuts is 30g (a small handful) or approximately the following:
- 20 almonds
- 15 cashews
- 20 hazelnuts
- 15 macadamias
- 15 pecans
- 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
- 30 pistachio kernels
- 9 walnut kernels
- a small handful of mixed nuts (about ¼ cup)
Here are some easy ways to get more nuts in your diet:
- Sprinkle walnuts on your salad.
- Have slivered almonds on top of oatmeal.
- Make a homemade trail mix of your favorite nuts for a portable snack.
- Use nuts in cooking; add to curries or stir fry dishes.
- Top your yogurt with pecan pieces.
- Grab a handful of nuts for a satisfying snack.
Kirsten Romero, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian with the wellness program at Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia. She believes that proper nutrition is not a secret formula, nor is it found in the latest fad diet. Instead, her nutrition coaching is tailored to each client’s individual goals and objectives to establish an eating plan that is enjoyable and sustainable. Kirsten provides nutrition education at our congregate meal sites, and she is available to provide one-on-one nutrition coaching to participants in the congregate and home-delivered meal programs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 757-461-9481 ext 230.