nuts, seeds
Food

The skinny on nuts and seeds

“Nuts” is one four-letter word we don’t have to avoid. Here’s what to know about choosing, storing and enjoying them.

The basics


They’re high in carbohydrates and oils and can rack up the SmartPoints values if consumed in excess (an ounce a day should suffice). Pre-portion a serving rather than continuously reaching into the bowl, and choose nuts still in their shells — they take longer to crack and eat. Either way — shelled or not — they’ll fill you up fast.

Technically a nut is a seed in a hard shell, so we’ll include seeds here as well.

 

At the store


Look for nuts without blemishes, wrinkles or discoloration. If they're in shells, pick them up and shake; you'll hear rattling if they're old and dry.

 

Avoid nuts that have been roasted with hydrogenated oils or sugar (read the labels). When it comes to nut butters, look for brands with just nuts and a little salt (no added sugars or oils), or grind your own at a health-food store. Nut oils are great for imparting a deep flavor—just be sure to use sparingly. Drizzle over a finished dish, but don't sauté with them; the heat destroys their nutrients.

 

In the kitchen


Nuts and seeds go rancid quickly, so store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry spot, away from light. The refrigerator or freezer is ideal for up to a few months. But be sure to taste before using: Rancid nuts will be bitter and oily. Here are tips on techniques that make the most of your favorite nuts:

Shelling: An old-fashioned hinged nutcracker is best for hard shells, and a nut pick can help you wheedle out the meat. Sometimes putting the nuts in the freezer for a few hours makes the shells easier to crack.

Roasting: To bring out nuttiness, roast in a 350°F oven or in a dry skillet on the stovetop until fragrant and golden (5-10 minutes). Cool, store in the fridge, and use within a few days.

Skinning: Skin or no skin is an issue of personal preference. If you want a cleaner look for ground nuts, like hazelnuts and walnuts, lightly roast and then rub the nuts vigorously in a clean, dry towel to remove their skins. For almonds, first blanche them, then remove their skins.

Grinding: If a recipe calls for ground nuts, use a cheese or nut grater. If you opt for the food processor, use quick, short pulses so you don't wind up with nut butter.

 

Delicious ways to enjoy nuts

 

There are a million ways to enjoy a nut. Out of hand or spread on a sandwich are two favorites, but there are many creative, delicious possibilities:

  • Stir nut butters into soups and stews to thicken.
  • Toast pine nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant and sprinkle atop a salad.
  • Add a sprinkling of peanuts to nonfat frozen yogurt.
  • Add chopped nuts to steamed vegetables for extra crunch.
  • In lieu of croutons, use nuts in salads or soups.
  • Add protein to a vegetarian pasta dish with chopped nuts.
  • Mix chopped nuts and dill into low-fat cream cheese for an easy spread.

 

Visual guide


From almonds to walnuts, and so many in between, nuts (and seeds) pack a nutritious and delicious

 

Almonds
Available blanched, roasted, sliced, whole, chopped and more, this nut is a great choice for sweet and savory cooking. It’s also plenty nutritious, with a good dose of protein, calcium, folic acid and vitamin E.

Cashews
Related to the mango, pistachio and poison ivy. The shells are poisonous, so extreme care is taken in shelling and cleaning these rich, buttery nuts. Full of protein, vitamin A and carbohydrates.

Hazelnut
Also known as the filbert, this favorite nut for baking is also great paired with vegetables in savory dishes. Low in fat (for a nut) but high in fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamin E. Also great as a nut butter.

Peanut
Available in the shell or out, salted or not, peanuts are not actually nuts at all, but legumes. They’re low in carbs but high in fat, vitamins B and E and protein.

Pecan
Available year-round, autumn is the peak season for this native American nut. It’s part of the hickory family and has buttery, rich nutmeat. Some say the flavor is akin to the walnut’s, but sweeter. High in fat, calcium, zinc and vitamins A, B and E.

Walnut
Though English walnuts are the most common variety, there are many others, including some with very thin shells and others that range in size from large to baby. High in fat, potassium, magnesium, protein and vitamin E. For optimal freshness, leave them in their shells until ready to use.

Pine Nut
The seeds from pine trees. And because the seeds are found inside the pine cone, the extraction process is rather involved and results in the often high price of these nuts. Also called pignoli, they’re protein-rich and a key ingredient in pesto.

Pistachio
Inside its hard, beige shell is a pale-green nut with a delicate, sweet flavor that’s prized in cuisines the world over. At home in both sweet and savory cooking, the pistachio is also a good source of calcium and iron.

Pumpkin Seeds
Also called pepitas, these seeds are a frequent ingredient in Mexican cooking and work well in both sweet and savory cooking. Roasted and lightly salted, the seeds have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor. Rich in protein, zinc and iron.

Sesame Seeds
Tiny, flat and in colors ranging from ivory to black, these seeds are great in both sweet and savory dishes. They can be turned into a paste — tahini — which is a main ingredient in hummus. And the toasted seeds become a flavorful finishing oil (imparting a distinctly Asian flavor). Good source of protein and calcium.

Sunflower Seeds
Enjoy these delicious seeds dried or roasted, salted or not. Just be sure to remove their hard black-and-white striped shells before eating. Native Americans have been cultivating the iron-rich seeds for more than 2,000 years.