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Nature’s Best Low Carbohydrate Snack: Nuts

People with diabetes need to take special care of their hearts because of their increased risk of heart disease. Protecting your heart includes decreasing unhealthy fats and increasing the healthy ones — like those found in nuts. Protecting your heart means doing things such as exercising, avoiding refined carbohydrates and trans fats, and increasing your intake of healthy foods, including nuts — nature’s best low carb snack.

When I tell my patients to start adding nuts to their diet, they often look confused and say, “I thought nuts were bad for me.” This is simply not true. Nuts are an excellent, natural, health food full of the good fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — and health benefits and are continually being studied and touted.

Nuts As Part Of A Heart-Healthy Diet

Several years ago, a review of the effect of nuts on blood cholesterol found that consumption of nuts, including almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans and walnuts, can significantly decrease total and LDL cholesterol levels when they are part of a heart-healthy diet.

Walnuts are unique because they contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, which may protect the heart by not only reducing cholesterol but also by reducing inflammation. Inflammation is at the root of arteriosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in the arteries.

Almonds contain a form of vitamin E that may have possible anti-atherogenic effects too. The FDA has acknowledged this benefit and approved a health claim for nuts, which states: “1.5 ounces per day of most nuts may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Other Health Benefits Of Nuts

Do you need any more reason to start eating a handful of delicious nuts every day? How about better blood sugar control. In addition to the above health benefits, nuts have little effect on blood glucose since they are low in carbohydrates — an added bonus for people with diabetes. They may also help increase the feeling of fullness when eating (or help you feel more satisfied) due to their fiber, fat and protein content.

It has been thought that because nuts are high in calories that eating nuts may promote weight gain. However, recent studies indicate that including nuts in the diet may actually moderate weight gain by suppressing appetite and fat absorption, but more research is needed to understand this better.

Of course, eating a half-jar of nuts is not a good idea. So don’t sit down in front of the TV with the jar or bag of nuts and then realize you’ve overeaten. If people have trouble controlling the portion size of nuts, I recommend throwing a small handful of nuts into a mini Ziploc bag and take it for a snack to work or out on a day of running errands.

This way when you are hungry for a snack, you’ll have the perfect portion of nuts. You can also find unsalted nuts that are already pre-packaged in the appropriate serving size to eliminate the guesswork for you. Here are some great ways to start adding nuts to your diet today:

  • Grab a handful of any type of nut for a snack
  • Sprinkle some slivered almonds on your salad
  • Add some chopped walnuts to your oatmeal
  • Coat chicken or fish in pecans, peanuts or pistachios and bake
  • Add some chopped walnuts to your high-fiber muffin mix
  • Toast a few slivered almonds and mix in with yogurt
  • Add some peanuts to your favorite stir-fry
  • Crunch up your chicken salad with toasted almonds or walnuts

Check out this recipe for chicken salad with almonds. You can serve it as suggested, on whole-grain toast or as an appetizer on cucumber slices or whole-wheat crackers.

Toasted Almond Chicken

Toasted Almond Chicken Salad

Serving Size: 1 sandwich

Yield: 5 servings

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 ribs celery stalks
1 bag mixed greens
2 14.5-ounce cans fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1/4 cup almond slivers, toasted
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain, fat-free yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt*
Dash ground black pepper
5 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted

1. Place chicken breasts in a large saucepan over medium heat. Pour chicken broth over the chicken breasts and bring to a low simmer for 20 minutes or until done. Shred chicken meat and set aside to cool.
2. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients, except bread, and mix well.
3. Add chicken to mixture and toss well to coat. Divide the chicken salad into 5 equal portions. Serve on a bed of greens.
4. To make an open-topped sandwich, top one slice of toasted wheat bread with one portion of chicken salad. Repeat to make 5 sandwiches total. Omit the bread to reduce carbs and you can omit salt here to decrease it to 480 mg sodium per serving.

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