Nuts and seeds add texture and flavor to salads and many recipes. Of course, they also make great snacks. Many people like to snack on nut butters, spread on crackers or fruit. I do not recommend buying nut butters prepared on site in stores because you can't know whether the grinder is clean and because the fresh nut butter is exposed to air and light as it emerges from the grinder. Frankly, you are better off buying pre-made nut butters from reputable natural food brands that do not add hydrogenated oils. It is fairly easy to make your own nut and seed butters in a food processor; just add additional oil as needed. As with nuts and seeds, keep homemade nut butters and open, store-bought nut butters in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
I recommend eating one serving of nuts or seeds (1/4 cup) every day. And, in addition to olive oil, it is healthy to cook with macadamia, peanut, sesame or canola oil instead of butter, margarine or shortening. Needless to say, you need to consider the distinct flavor of each nut oil: Peanut oil is ideal for many Asian meals. Never cook with fragile flax, hemp or walnut oils, as their delicate omega-3 fatty acids will oxidize under the exposure to heat and air and light. Use flaxseed, walnut, hemp seed or olive oil in homemade salad dressings. When possible, always buy organic nuts, seeds and oils.
All nuts and seeds are healthful in moderation. The key is to eat a variety. However, certain ones stand out for their exceptionally healthful fatty acid composition. I recommend the following nuts and seeds because they are the highest in either omega-3 or omega-9 (monounsaturated) fatty acids. Both fatty acids are heart-healthy; omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatory agents as well. The fatty acid content of each nut or seed is expressed here as a percent of its total fat content (note: The percentage figures provided are averages, as the fatty acid content of nuts and seeds varies considerably among data sources):
- Highest in omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids: Macadamia (50 percent), pecans (45 percent), almonds (42 percent), filberts (38%), pistachios (35 percent), Brazil nuts (32 percent), peanuts (23 percent), sesame seeds (21 percent). Note: Unlike most nuts, pistachios are high in antioxidant carotenoids.
- Highest in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: Flaxseed (50 percent), walnuts (8 percent), pumpkin seed (7 percent).