Low fat diets are no longer in style. We now know that healthy fats are an essential part of a well-balanced diet, and leading the parade are nuts. Tasty, crunchy and packing a powerful punch of healthy fatty acids, nuts are one of Nature's most nutritionally balanced foods.

Not only do they help ward off strokes and type 2 diabetes, they can help control your appetite and encourage weight loss. They're also a valuable source of protein for vegetarians, and they play nicely with a wide variety of foods, from grains to ice cream.

Almonds are our number one pick because they're among the highest in protein at a fraction of the cost of other nuts. They're rich in manganese and vitamin E, which defends against oxidative cell damage, and you can sprinkle them on salads, drink them in almond milk shakes or eat them whole as an afternoon snack. Just be sure to buy them in their natural state and unsalted.

Walnuts are a close second. They're rich in alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids. A 2006 study found that these essential fatty acids decreased subjects' total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in short-term trials. Walnuts contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and keep type 2 diabetes at bay, and they're also a good source of melatonin for restorative sleep. Just one ounce of walnuts contains more omega-3s than four ounces of salmon, and at only 163 calories per quarter cup, it's a weight watchers bargain super food!

Pistachios sometimes get a bad rap as calorie busters, but they are very high in protein, fiber and vitamin B6. A recent Illinois University study that found participants who were offered pistachios in the shell ate about 125 calories worth of nuts, compared to subjects who were offered shelled pistachios and consumed over 200 calories worth of these tasty gems. So be sure to take the time to crack them out of their shells, and reap the benefits! Again, buy them as close to their natural state as possible. Dry-roasted and unsalted is best!

Cashews are one of the most nutrient-dense nuts available, serving up loads of iron, zinc and trace minerals. A one-ounce serving provides 25% of your daily phosphorus requirement, and who can resist that rich buttery taste? Calories can add up fast if you're faced with a bowl of cashews, so measure out just nine whole cashews for a 163 calorie snack of deliciousness.

Peanuts aren't really nuts – they're legumes that grow underground. A great energy food, peanuts are high in protein, dietary fiber and antioxidants. Eating peanuts can reduce your chance of stroke, as they contain nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels. A peanut butter sandwich is a complete protein, and when served with milk will help you last for hours with no hunger pangs!

Try to look for peanut butter that contains peanuts only, and watch out for commercial brands containing high levels of sugar and salt. Better still, make your own! Just grind roasted unsalted peanuts until chunky or smooth, then store in the refrigerator.

In a 'nut' shell, nuts are a nutritious and delicious mainstay of any meal plan. Just remember to buy them in small quantities, as close to their natural state as possible, store them in the refrigerator and measure your portions!

Source by Joseph Ahern

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