Sometimes you feel like a nut

Published 9:46 am Saturday, August 20, 2016

“Nuts are good for the heart,” I said to myself as I reached for a can of unsalted mixed nuts on a grocery store shelf. I had recently read a brief article about how healthy they are if you don’t gorge on them, that is. My selection contained peanuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), and pecans.

I try to divert my attention from my nightly snack habit, but my method of watching a favorite television show or a movie, or sitting down with a novel seldom works. I usually just give in to a snack.

While shaking the can and then selecting a big, beautiful brazil nut, I wondered about all the goodies in the can. As far as I knew, I had never seen a Brazil nut tree. What does it look like? Where do filberts grow? And what about almonds? Why did I think they might have originated in California? Well, my inquiring mind stirred me to get up and do a little research.

I discovered that Brazil nuts grow on tall trees in South America. Some thrive wild in stands in the Amazon River and stretch to 150 feet in height. Eight to 24 nuts cluster inside a thick fruit. It looks a little like a coconut. If you were to break one open, you would find they look a little like orange sections arranged in hard shells. Fat content is high.

You might be surprised as I was to find that the story of almonds is fascinating. Flowering almond trees were in existence as far back as 4,000 B.C. It is said that King Tut took several handfuls of almonds to his grave to nourish his journey into the afterlife. Like Brazil nuts, almonds have a high fat content. They contain small amounts of protein, iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B.

I found the cashew fascinating. It is a two-shelled nut that grows with oil between the shells potent enough to blister our skin—and no wonder. Its plant is related to poison sumac and poison ivy. The wood is used for shipping crates and boats. It grows from a tropical and subtropical evergreen shrub or tree, native to Central and South America. When you eat one serving (18 pieces) of cashews, you consume 14 grams of fat.

Here in the United States, filberts or hazelnuts grow in Oregon, but Turkey is the leading grower. They appear on small trees in little clusters. Oil from one of the species is used in perfumes, soaps and food products.

In south Alabama, we know about pecans and peanuts. Peanuts, I found, contain pound for pound, more protein, minerals and vitamins than beef liver and more fat than heavy cream. Pecans have the highest fat content of any vegetable product.

According to nutritionists, nut fats are mostly unsaturated and beneficial in the prevention of coronary heart disease and lowering LDL cholesterol. It’s not a bad thing to snack on nuts so that eases my conscience somewhat.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business.