Tree Nuts Add Flavor and Nutrients to Holiday Entertaining

Davis, CA, November 10, 2004 — Nuts that grow on trees—almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts—are one of the world’s favorite and most basic foods. Tree nuts are a traditional part of many ethnic cuisines, especially during the holiday season. They provide rich flavors that complement any type of dish including soups, salads, appetizers and entrees.  Plus, they’re great on their own as a snack!

While nuts are relatively high in fat, most of that fat is unsaturated, according to the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF), a nonprofit organization.  Saturated fats, found mainly in animal products, raise blood cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.  But unsaturated fats, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in plant foods such as nuts, can actually decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) levels. 

“We know that the unsaturated fats in nuts may play a major role in the protective effect against heart disease, but other nutrients may also be important,” states Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., dietitian with the INC NREF. “Tree nuts are a great source of vitamins and minerals as well as phytochemicals, or plant compounds such as flavonoids, phytosterols and proanthocyanidins.  Eating a mixture of tree nuts can certainly provide a powerful punch.”

The evidence on the healthful benefits of nuts is so compelling that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved one of the first qualified health claims for nuts and heart disease in 2003.  The claim states, “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” 

While the new qualified health claim recommends 1.5 ounces per day (about 1/3 cup), portion control is key.  Fortunately, because tree nuts have such rich and complex flavors, a single 1½-ounce serving is quite satisfying and enough to add interest to just about any dish.  So if you’re entertaining this holiday season, or just want to give a new twist to a favorite dish, add a handful of mixed tree nuts to the menu for a taste that everyone will enjoy.

Our tasty fall salad, Baby Spinach, Pear, and Fennel Salad with Toasted Tree Nuts, is delicious served alone with a rustic Italian bread or as an accompaniment to your celebration meal.  Toasted tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazils, pecans, pistachios and pine nuts, tossed on top of the salad add a particularly interesting taste and texture to this dish.

Pumpkin and Tree Nut Soup is the perfect start to a holiday celebration, or a tasty light meal in itself.  Tree nuts, such as chopped cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, or walnuts, add a wonderful texture, flavor and richness to this soup, replacing the need for creams and other fats.