Late fall is the time stores fill bins to overflowing with piles of mixed nuts: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts (filberts), almonds, and brazil nuts. It’s the right time to stock up on these crunchy treats for holiday snacking. A handful of nuts, about a quarter cup, satisfies the desire for a munchy snack and provides a nutrition bonus you won’t find in any bag of salty chips. Their high protein content (about 10% of your daily needs in that quarter cup) fills you up more quickly than a handful of most any other snack, and by cracking your own shells, you eat fewer and avoid the landmine of salt in chips or jarred nuts. If you don’t want to shell your own nuts, purchase them in the baking aisle of your store, not the snack aisle, to avoid the salt and other additives. We’ll give you a quick rundown on the nutrition in the varieties.
Walnuts: This traditional favorite is what many people think of first when they think about in-shell nuts. They are large, easy to crack, and come out in big, satisfying pieces. Walnuts are a great source of manganese, providing half of what you need each day in a quarter cup, and they have a quarter of the copper you need. They are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, with over 2500 mg in a handful. You still have to be careful snacking, though, because that handful also contains over a quarter of your recommended fat for a day.
Pecans: Many people think pecans are a bit tastier than walnuts, and they are daintier to east because of their smaller size. Pecans are similar to walnuts in most nutritional categories, such as manganese (more than walnuts), fat, and fiber (about 10% of your daily needs in a quarter cup), but they have only about a tenth of the Omega-3 fatty acids that are in walnuts. Pecans are, of course, delicious in pecan pie (fie on pie!), but try them instead sprinkled on pancakes or waffles, or added to salads—yum!
Almonds: Almonds are almost completely lacking Omega-3 fatty acids, but they are a vitamin E powerhouse. A handful of almonds—about 23 kernels—contains over a third of your vitamin E as well as a third of your manganese. They are a bit lower in fat than walnuts or pecans, and they are very versatile in cooking. Use them sliced in salads, slivered in green beans, or chopped in chicken or tuna salads.
Hazelnuts: Hazelnuts are more difficult to find at other times of year than are walnuts, pecans, or almonds. Hazelnut coffee is a traditional favorite, although we realize that has little to do with cracking your own hazelnuts. (Just thought we’d toss that in.) Hazelnuts are nutritionally similar to almonds, with almost none of the valuable Omega-3 fatty acids, but still containing about 20% of your vitamin E and a staggering 87% of your manganese! A handful has a quarter of your daily copper, as well as a quarter of your daily fat. Hazelnuts have more protein than pecans, about the same as walnuts, but less than almonds.
Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts make you work hard for your treat, with their hard shell, but their flavor is unique. They contain twice as much magnesium and phosphorus as walnuts, about the same amount of copper and protein, and an incredible seven times your daily need of selenium! Like all the nuts except walnuts, they have almost no Omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, Brazil nuts are high in saturated fat, with more than twice as much as walnuts or pecans.
Pistachios: You almost always have to shell your own pistachios and it’s hard to find them without salt. But a little time searching will turn up pistachios that are not dyed brilliant red or green, and that are roasted without salt. In addition, studies have shown that people who snack on shell-your-own pistachios eat fewer. Because pistachios are the nut lowest in fat and calories, that’s good news for the diet-conscious. Pistachios have as much protein as almonds and a handful of about 50 shelled pistachios has about a sixth of your needs for manganese, copper, phosphorous, thiamine, and vitamin B6.