When the urge to reach for an afternoon snack hits, grab a handful of unsalted mixed nuts instead of a bag of chips or a cookie. A can of mixed nuts contains peanuts -- which are technically legumes -- and tree nuts like almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pecans. Nuts serve as a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber, but because they also contain a high level of calories and fat, eat only a handful a day.
Protein contains amino acids that act as the building blocks for bones, muscle, skin, blood, hormones, enzymes and vitamins -- meaning your body needs protein to support all daily functions. Sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts, but nuts are a healthy choice because they contain only small amounts of saturated fats and no cholesterol. In a 1-ounce serving, peanuts provide 7 grams, almonds 6 grams, cashews 4 grams, Brazil nuts 4 grams, hazelnuts 4 grams and pecans provide 3 grams of protein. As mixed nuts, a 1-ounce serving contributes 6 grams of protein to your diet.
Vitamins and Minerals
Mixed nuts contain vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Peanuts provide vitamin E, niacin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Almonds contain vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and copper. Cashews contribute copper, magnesium, manganese, vitamin K, phosphorus and zinc to your diet. Brazil nuts serve as an excellent source of selenium and also provide manganese, copper, phosphorus, vitamin E and thiamine. Hazelnuts contain copper, manganese, vitamin E, and magnesium. Eating pecans contributes manganese, copper and thiamine to your diet.
Fiber, the portion of a plant-based food your body cannot break down during digestion, promotes the movement of material through your digestive tract, helping to prevent constipation. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels reducing your risk for heart disease, regulates blood sugar and aids in weight loss. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women between the ages of 19 and 50 consume 25 grams of fiber per day and those over 50 eat at least 21 grams. A handful of mixed nuts contributes 2 grams of fiber toward this goal.
Some women mistakenly believe they must avoid all fat to keep their waistlines trim. Your body needs fat; the Institute of Medicine recommends that 20 to 35 percent of your calories come from fat to provide calories for energy, promote the absorption of vitamins and add structure to cell membranes. Although you should limit your intake of unhealthy saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your daily calories, the majority of fat in nuts consists of healthy unsaturated fat. A 1-ounce serving of mixed nuts contains 8 grams of monounsaturated fat, which when eaten in place of foods that contain saturated fats such as meat and eggs, can help lower your blood cholesterol levels.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Planters Nuts: Mixed Nuts Nutrition
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Nut Nutrition Database
- University of Nebraska: Nuts for Nutrition
- Mayo Clinic: Dietary Fiber -- Essential for a Healthy Diet
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Macronutrients
- American Heart Association: Know your Fats
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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