Monday, February 28, 2011

Favorite Foods:Nuts & Seeds

Back in September I drastically changed my eating habits and embraced a vegetarian lifestyle with strong vegan tendencies.  The choice is  motivated by health and ethical reasons (not the subject of this blog post).  I do want to highlight, however, that I find myself eating a much more varied diet and trying so many more new foods than I ever did as an omnivore.  Because of this, I am constantly discovering new favorite foods.  This post will be about one such category of food: nuts and seeds.  I eat nuts and seeds every day.  They are calorically concentrated and a great source of healthy fats and protein.  Eat them in their whole food state to get the best benefit and see if you can't incorporate them into all three of your meals!  While not a comprehensive list, here are some of my favorites, as well as how I commonly eat them.  Go nuts!

Pine Nuts
Perhaps one of my favorite nuts, these little guys are harvested from pine cones and come encased in a hard coat, which is then split open to reveal nut meats.  Harvesting pine nuts is very labor intensive, which unfortunately makes them pretty expensive (I pay $28/lb).  They have a delicious, piney, rich taste and I enjoy adding them to pasta dishes, roasted vegetables and sauteed greens.  They are also delicious in cookies, although the cost per pound may be a deterrent.  Pesto recipes traditionally call for pine nuts.  They are about 190 calories per ounce.

A great source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein, walnuts are 185 calories per ounce, are rich in flavor with a slight bitterness.  I like to use them in baked goods such as cookies, muffins and quick breads.  I often add them to a lunch salad or mix them in with my oatmeal.  You can toast them in your toaster very easily, it takes less than five minutes.

Not just for pies, I find pecans to be a sweeter, less savory nut.  I like to toast them and add them to my oatmeal, and I often bake with them.  They are a great addition to any salad, and compliment fresh berries, balsamic vinegar, spinach or baby greens.  Pecans ring in at 195 calories per ounce.

Almonds are probably the most versatile nut (to me).  They can be used in savory dishes, such as couscous with raisins, and are also a staple when it comes to baking.  Finely ground almonds can be substituted in part with flour to give baked goods a delicious nutty flavor.  Furthermore, almonds are great in anything from cookies to bars, brownies, breads and pies.  Don't forget that marzipan is a paste made from ground almonds and sugar!  When I'm not having them in a dessert, I like to add almonds to oatmeal, salads and pasta dishes.  A breakfast favorite for me is almond butter on toast.  Relatively low calorie for the nut world, these guys are 165 calories per ounce.

Cashews aren't actually a nut, but rather a legume, but I added it here because most of us think of these guys as part of the nut family.  I love adding cashews to a vegetable stir-fry dish and find they pair well with a drizzle of soy sauce.  Just like with almonds, I thoroughly enjoy cashew butter on toast for breakfast.  I buy freshly ground nut butters in bulk, but the MaraNatha brand is another good option.  I have several recipes for cashew cream that I intend to try out, but haven't had the opportunity yet.  This faux-nut packs 155 calories per ounce.

Sunflower Seeds
Enough about nuts, on to the seeds!  Of all the seeds, sunflower are probably the most delicious to me.  I add these to my salad nearly every day and buy them in bulk, pre-roasted and salted.  I also like sunflower seed bread, but I buy that in the store and have not attempted to make it myself (yet).  They are about 165 calories per ounce.

Flax Seeds
I use ground flax seeds a lot because of their healthful and useful properties.  Flax seeds are the most concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids anywhere, so I make a point of adding a tablespoon of ground flax meal to my oatmeal.  It also adds a rich, nutty flavor.  You can also add finely ground flax to smoothies, soups or salads and shouldn't notice much of a change in taste.  Ground flax whipped with water also makes an excellent egg replacer in baking, without the cholesterol.  I use it for breads and cookies, and recently made a successful and delicious batch of latkes.  Ground flax is about 35 calories per tablespoon.

Pepita (pumpkin) Seeds
I use pepita or pumpkin seeds in similar ways to sunflower seeds.  I like to add them to my salads, and I have also mixed them with sauteed greens and vegetables for a delicious effect.  It is easy to make your own, especially in the fall and winter, when squashes are abundant.  Just scoop the seeds from the gourd's center, wash in cold water and roast with salt and some oil in a hot oven.  They are about 170 calories per ounce.

1 comment:

  1. Good! In addition to walnuts and pecans I also like almonds (which I'd read somewhere are 'especially healthy'... although at the moment I have no idea if that's true, and if it is on what criteria.) For a special treat I love salted pistachio nuts, though try to minimize them. Anyway, as you noted nuts are categorically dense but have healthy unsaturated fats - which if memory serves we need ~10 to 25% of the calories in our daily diet - though living in America it's all too easy to blow away that guideline ;-)