Many nuts reach their peak of freshness and quality in the late fall which leads to their harvest. As a result, there is an abundance of nuts during the holiday festivities. I have yet to roast chestnuts on an open fire, but it seems to be a Christmas tradition (or at least lyrics in the Christmas carol lead me to that conclusion). One nutty tradition in my family was my Aunt Doris giving out bottles of her homemade Christmas Nuts and Bolts. We looked forward to that special container of salty deliciousness every year!

The Twelve Nutty Facts for the Holidays

  1. The nutcracker is commonly associated with Christmas, but it wasn’t always that way. These functional, decorative objects were once used in Germany year-round as protectors of homes, bringing good luck to the residents of the household.
  2. Today, nutcrackers are most commonly seen during the Christmas season, both in homes and on stage.
  3. Although nutcrackers have been around for over 300 years, they only became popular for collectors in Canada and the USA in the 1950s after WW II soldiers brought them home from Germany.
  4. The botanical definition of a nut refers to a seed enclosed by a hard-shelled fruit which does not open. These include hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns.
  5. Common nuts enjoyed over the holiday season (and all year round), such as pecans, almonds, and walnuts, do not meet the botanical definition a nut. Instead, they are drupes, which are fruit that have a fleshy outer layer which surround a hard seed.
  6. Coconuts fall into the drupe category as well. Cashews and pistachios are seeds of their respective drupe fruit.
  7. Almonds are California’s largest tree nut crop in total dollar value and acreage. They rank as the largest US specialty crop export, as well as the top agricultural export of the state of California.
  8. The almond tree is not self-pollinating; therefore, bees are brought to the orchard to carry pollen between alternating rows of almond varieties.
  9. The name pecan is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
  10. During the 1700’s and the early 1800’s, the pecan became an item of commerce for the American colonists and the pecan industry was born. (In San Antonio, the wild pecan harvest was more valuable than popular row crops like cotton!).
  11. Walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to 7000 B.C.
  12. California grows more than 99% of the USA’s supply and two-thirds of the world’s walnut trade.

Nuts and Health

Most nuts (or drupes) are extremely nutrient and calorie dense. So keep in mind portion control for the fresh, non seasoned nuts you consume throughout the day. For this blog post, I’ve focused on the nutrition profile of almonds, pecans, and walnuts related to heart health.

Overall, the effects of nut consumption appear to be dose related, and it is recommended that consumption of one ounce (28 grams) of nuts four times a week may be beneficial to one’s overall health.

Nuts about Heart Health

  • Nuts have several nutrients (specific antioxidants and types of fat) that lead to heart-healthy properties. A review of epidemiological studies on nuts in relationship to cardiovascular disease found that there was a 37% lower risk for coronary heart disease in individuals who consumed nuts more than four times a week, compared to those who rarely ate nuts (1).
  • One mechanism seems to be that nut consumption leads to lowered blood lipid levels, and this effect is greater in individuals who had higher lipid levels before the intervention (2,3).

Almonds

  • It was shown that an almond supplemented diet led to significantly decreased levels of the bad or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and decreased levels of total cholesterol (4).

Pecans

  • Another way nuts may affect heart is by increasing antioxidant profiles. A pecan-enriched diet led to increased γ-tocopherol levels, which have been shown to inhibit lipid oxidation (5), a factor to decrease cardiac risk.

Walnuts

  • A walnut supplemented diet led to significantly decreased levels of total cholesterol (3). Also, walnuts have been shown to significantly improve endothelial function in individuals with type 2 diabetes, which in turn decreases cardiac risk (6).

Nutrient Chart – Per 1 ounce (28 gram) Serving

Almonds

Pecans

Walnuts

Calories (kcal)

161

193

183

Fat (gram)

14

20

18

Protein (gram)

6

3

4

 

Recipe

For a savoury holiday indulgent treat (not an everyday snack!)

Try this Nuts and Bolts Recipe from tasteofhome.com

 

 

 

References

  1. Kelly Jr J H, Sabaté, J. Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. Brit J of Nut. 2006; 96:S61-S67.
  2. Sabaté J, Oda K, Ros E. Nut Consumption and Blood Lipid Levels. Archives of  Intl Med. 2010; 170(9):821-827
    
  3. Torabian S et al. Long-term walnut supplementation without dietary advice induces favourable serum lipid changes in free-living individuals. European J of Clin Nut. 2010; 64:74-279.
    
  4. Jalali-Khanabadi B A, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Parsaeyan, N. Effects of Almond Dietary Supplementation on Coronary Heart Disease Lipid Risk Factors and Serum Lipid  Oxidation Parameters in Men with Mild Hyperlipidemia. J of Altrn and Com Med. 2010; 16(12): 1279-1283.
  5. Haddad E et al. A pecan-enriched diet increases γ-tocopherol/cholesterol and decreases thiobarbituric acid reactive substances in plasma of adults. Nut Res. 2006; 26,397-402.
  6. Ma Y et al. Effects of Walnut Consumption on Endothelial Function in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects. Diab Care. 2010; 33:227-232.