PUBLISHED: 3:20 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Get the skinny on the truth about nuts

In recent years, nuts have gone from a dietary no-no to heart-healthy fare.

Recent scientific evidence suggests 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.

But the myths surrounding nuts continue to confuse many people, said Terri Umscheid, a clinical dietitian at St. Francis Health Center.

Umscheid provided the following information to help dispel some of those myths.

Myth: Nuts can't be good for you.

Fact: They are natural sources of protein, dietary fiber and unsaturated fats. Also, nuts are cholesterol-free.

Myth: Nuts have too much fat to be healthy.

Fact: Nuts had a bad reputation for years because of their high fat content, but recent scientific evidence is challenging that myth.

The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in plant foods, such as nuts, have been shown to decrease low-density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol levels.

It is the saturated fat that is bad for your heart. It increases cholesterol levels, which in turn leads to plaque build-up in the arteries.

Myth: If a few nuts are good for my health, a lot will be better.

Fact: "Nuts are a fairly significant source of calories," Umscheid said. "The calories can add up very quickly. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, while 1 gram of carbohydrates or protein contains 4 calories. So, a gram of fat contains (more than) twice the calories.

"A serving of nuts is 1 ounce. That's 1/3 of a cup of peanuts. As a snack, that's not even going to fill your palm. It might be better to add nuts to your food."

Myth: Peanuts are a nut.

Fact: Peanuts are a legume and belong to the same family as peas and beans. However, they often are grouped in the nut family because they offer many of the same heart-healthy benefits.

Myth: Dry-roasted nuts are low in fat.

Fact: "Dry-roasting is a process. Many of my clients think it dries out the oil, but it doesn't," Umscheid said. "Dry-roasted nuts can have as much fat as nuts cooked in oil."

Myth: Nuts are an excellent source of protein for vegetarians.

Fact: That is true and false. Nuts are a good source of protein, but they don't contain all the essential amino acids. Vegetarians and vegans need to eat complementary proteins in order to get a complete protein.

Lemon & Nut-Crusted Halibut

1/2 cup nuts, roughly chopped (such as almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, pistachios or Brazil nuts)

Finely grated zest of one lemon

1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

2 teaspoons chopped oregano

1 tablespoon olive oil or nut oil

4 fillets fresh halibut, about 5 ounces each, skin and bones removed (see note)

1/4 cup white wine, optional

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Combine the nuts, lemon zest, pepper and oregano, and spread over a large plate. Place halibut flesh side down on the nut mixture, pressing well to coat.

Heat oil in an oven-proof pan and cook the halibut, crusted side down, for one to two minutes or until nuts are golden brown. Using a large spatula and tongs, carefully turn halibut over and cook for another minute. The flesh should be moist and tender inside.

Pour wine into pan to deglaze. Keep warm in oven if needed.

Almond Cookies

1 18-ounce container refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1 tablespoon almond extract

1/2 cup ground blanched almonds, roasted

30 whole blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In large mixing bowl, combine cookie dough, almond extract and ground almonds; mix well. Shape the dough in to 1/2-inch balls.

Place the balls about two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Gently press one whole almond into the center of each ball. Bake about 13 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.