Many of us think of nuts as a snack food, but they are so much more than that. Nuts are a concentrated source of plant protein, and their fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds help promote heart health in many ways—notably by improving cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and helping arteries stay flexible. Observational studies have linked nut consumption to a lower risk of heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, as well as lower mortality rates. Nuts are also a versatile cooking ingredient, as you’ll see from the five recipes here—lending not just flavor but nutritional oomph to meals.
Adding walnuts to the mixture that coats the fish in this dish increases the nutritional value, as these nuts are rich inalpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods. Some studies suggest that ALA may help protect against heart disease. If you can’t find snapper, this recipe also works well with tilapia, bluefish, or grouper.
While quinoa may be hard to pronounce (for the record, it’s “keen-wah”), its nutritional distinguishing factor is easy to articulate: The ancient grain-like product is high in lysine, an amino acid necessary for the synthesis of many proteins, making it one of the best sources of plant protein. A small amount of pecans in the recipe (you can also use walnuts) adds crunch plus a bit of fiber and healthful fat.
The carrots in this healthy spin on rice pudding provide a healthy helping of beta carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A. The almonds add a dash of monounsaturated fat, fiber, and protein. For an interesting twist, try making this recipe with an aromatic rice such as basmati.
We tend to associate chestnuts with Christmas, but you needn’t limit them to one season. Chestnuts are unusual among nuts in two ways: They contain very little fat (less than a gram per 1-ounce serving) and supply a respectable amount of vitamin C. Choose chestnuts that are heavy for their size, with smooth, unbroken skin; if it rattles, the chestnut is old and has shriveled inside its skin.
If any pecans remain after you make these brownies, be sure to store them properly, away from heat, light, and humidity (otherwise they’re prone to becoming rancid). Raw, unshelled nuts keep well for six months to a year when stored in a cool, dry place. Shelled pecans should be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container where they will be good for about nine months.