12.3.08

...as well as my nuts (repost).

















This is going to be a reposting of a rather old bit (April 2005) that deals with Nut Health. I'm going to re-tweak the writing and generally trick it out with photos from our 2001 Sicilian vacation during Carnevale. Right now the writing is still 2005-style.

A word about the chickens. We went to Sicily in 2001 immediately after Mara's life-changing run-in with the exotic and deadly Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It seemed that some relaxing islandy sun might be a good antidote for sleepless weeks in the hospital, plasmapheresis, and nerve conduction studies (where basically they electrocute you "just a little" to see if your nerves are still working).

When we arrived, we (duh! guess we'd been preoccupied) found out it was Carnevale, which meant parades, costumes, and general drunken revelry. 2001 was also the year that "mad cow disease" was dominating the media, and in response to this a certain faction of the Taormina celebrants had dressed up as chickens. In drag. On several floats, there were crossdressing chickens cooking actual chicken and throwing it into the crowd:

















It was yet another example of that wonderful Italian tendency toward serving tasty food where you least expect it: bus stations, hospitals, and yes, parades.

Throughout the cooking process, the chefs had been taking long pulls from a suspicious-looking bottle of what must have been Boogie Juice, because it wasn't long before the chickens began boogeying down unstoppably. They also had their eye on Mara, and soon she was in their clutches. And me with no chicken repellent.


































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Time for a Nut Roundup. During my most successful "weight management interludes", nuts are my primary dessert substitute and snack. Turns out, though, that not all nuts are equally beneficial to the rest of your body. There are some well-known standouts from a health perspective, the point of this post was to look at my faves and see how good or bad they are.

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ALMONDS. Good news! In 2003, the FDA added almonds to the list of "tree nuts that may help reduce the risk of heart disease." I'll quote from the link above, from Western Farm Press:

"A clinical trial conducted at the University of Toronto found that women and men who ate about one ounce (a handful) of almonds each day lowered their LDL cholesterol by 4.4 percent from baseline. The study showed an even greater decrease of 9.4 percent in LDL cholesterol in those who ate about two handfuls of almonds a day, indicating that almonds' effect increases with increased consumption."


Great news. One ounce of almonds = 24 almonds = 164 calories. Time to bust out the ricciarelli. They don't even look that bad for you.


PINE NUTS. You'd think that this study/statement above from the FDA would include pine nuts. Well, when the FDA mentioned tree nuts, they added that they were disqualifying four kinds of nuts ‑ Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts and some varieties of pine nuts because they exceed healthy saturated fat levels.

Thus, an occasional treat. And that should render this slice of pure uncut dopamine even more occasional.


















PISTACHIOS. Ah, Sicily. In Taormina (pictured above), after stumbling down the nearly vertical hill from our hotel into the center of town, I was wandering around comparing bakeries, and finally settled on one with an array of nut-bombarded cookies in the window. Pistachio, pignoli, and almond, studded with tooth-defying amounts of sugared nuts...we went back for seconds within the hour.

Well, this is coming from the California Pistachio Commission, but in light of everything we've already uncovered, we can assume that the word "nuts" in the text can apply to "pistachio" as well (they thought we wouldn't notice that they don't actually use the word pistachio?). Verdict: as healthy as almonds, and one of the lowest-oil-content nuts.1 oz. pistachios = 47 kernels = 158 cal.

HAZELNUTS. A very European nut, one that I liked in America when I came across it (mostly in Frangelico or European chocolate), but I didn't begin truly jonesing for filberts until we lived in Italy and they were everywhere. My most indelible hazelnut experience came from a street vendor in Bologna who was selling warm, fresh hazelnut brittle. When i say fresh, I mean that not only was the brittle fresh--you couldn't hold it upright because it would ooze/droop over--but the hazelnuts were extremely fresh as well, not these gnarled, dry things you sometimes come across. Totally perfetto.

Also: here's a nice little paper from Univ. of Arizona with some cholesterol-lowering tips.

So hazelnuts...they're as good for you as almonds are. Here's the Hazelnut Commission's promotional info. Not that this is the info that I'm basing my results on...the hazelnut details are already covered in the FDA links for almonds and pistachios.

1 oz. hazelnuts = 178 calories. pretty high in fat.

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CONCLUSION. Good? walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios. Bad? pine, macadamia, cashew, Brazil. Neither? The peanut. As far as I can tell, there's no non-partisan document that says that peanuts lower anything beyond what any monounsaturated fat would do. They're just extra fat. So, if you feel like a nut, it'd be wiser to go with something that actually does you some good.

P.S: After I wrote this I realized that I needed to find out about the candlenut. They're used a bunch in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking to thicken curries, or to flavor sambals like Sambal Badjak. Their texture is kind of macadamia-like, so I'm not hopeful about their fat content. Baking 911 tells us that they're toxic if not completely cooked--good to know.

But! Turns out they also have a higher Omega-3 content than even walnuts. Just have to find out about their saturated fat now. Anyone?

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