The skinny on nuts and seeds

Nuts pack a nutritious and delicious punch that's well worth their ProPoints values.
Nuts and seeds
'Nuts' is a four-letter word we don't have to avoid. Sure, nuts contain fat, but it's the good kind (monounsaturated), plus they're packed full of protein, vitamins, antioxidants and fibre.

Still it's important not to eat too many because they are high in fat, and can rack up the ProPoints values if consumed in excess (30g per day is a healthy amount). Pre-portion out a serving, rather than reach continuously into the bowl, and choose nuts still in their shells as 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 discolouration. 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 with nuts from a health-food store. Nut oils are great for imparting a deep flavour - just be sure to use sparingly. Drizzle over a finished dish, but don't sauté with them as the heat destroys their nutrients.

Here are some varieties we're nuts about:

Almonds: One of the most nutritious. High in protein and vitamin E.
Cashews: Related to the mango, pistachio and poison ivy. Rich in protein.
Hazelnuts: Low in fat (for a nut) yet high in fibre and vitamin E. Great as a nut butter.
Macadamias: Quite expensive. Simultaneously creamy and crunchy. Low in carbs and high in healthy fat.
Peanuts: Not actually nuts but legumes. Low in carbs and high in healthy fat, vitamins B and E and protein.
Pecans: Flavour similar to the walnut, but sweeter. High in monosaturated fat.
Walnuts: Very good source of healthy fat and magnesium. For optimal freshness, leave them in their shells until ready to use.
Pine nuts: The seeds from pine trees. They're rich in zinc and a major ingredient in pesto.
Pistachios: Prized in cuisines all over the world. A good source of protein and fibre.
Pumpkin: Rich in protein, zinc and iron. Eat raw or cooked in savoury dishes.
Sesame: Good source of copper. The toasted seeds make a flavourful oil (imparting an Asian twist); turned into a paste, they become tahini, a main ingredient in hummus.
Sunflower: Rich in vitamin E. Native Americans have been cultivating for more than 2,000 years.

In the kitchen
Nuts and seeds go off 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: off nuts will be bitter and oily.

Tips on techniques that make the most of your favourite nuts:

Preparing nuts
Shelling: An old-fashioned hinged nutcracker is best for hard shells. 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 180°C oven 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 blanch them, then remove their skins.
Grinding: If a recipe calls for ground nuts, use a cheese grater. If you opt for the food processor, use quick, short pulses so you don't wind up with nut butter.

On your plate
There are a thousands of ways to enjoy nuts and seeds. Straight out of your hand or spread on a sandwich are two favourites, but they can be used in everything from salads to desserts:

  • Toast pine nuts until fragrant and sprinkle over a salad.
  • Sprinkle 30g mixed nuts over your cereal or muesli.
  • Add a sprinkling of peanuts to low-fat yoghurt.
  • Add ground nuts to steamed vegetables for extra crunch.
  • Instead of croutons, use nuts in salads or soups.
  • Add protein to a vegetarian pasta dish with chopped nuts.
  • Sprinke some almonds over chicken and vegetable stir-fry.
  • Mix chopped nuts and dill into low-fat cream cheese for an easy spread.