Did you know that nuts are a great nutrient for heart health? We tend to think of nuts as snacks loaded with salt, fat and calories. However, excellent research over the years has found that nuts help reduce cardiac events as much as 40 percent. Nuts should be eaten by the handful, not the bagful. A handful of nuts can pack up to 150 calories so titrate them carefully. We like to portion out our daily nut ration in a small bowl or a Saki cup.

Much of the research on nuts has been done on walnuts and almonds, but good ol’ Texas pecans, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and so on are all likely just as healthful. The Mayo Clinic website lists about a half dozen healthful components of nuts. These include fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats, plant sterols, L-arginine and vitamin E. Nuts have been shown to lower LDL, the “bad cholesterol,” and the healthy fats decrease inflammation accounting in part for their hearty benefits.

Nut oils and nut butters can also contribute to your heart health. Even though peanuts are a legume and not technically a tree nut, they also have similar beneficial values. Avoid nuts covered with a lot of salt, sugar or chocolate.

It is easy to get nuts into your diet. They are small and easy to pack for lunches, trail mix or midday snacks, or perhaps with your evening glass of wine. Here are a few recipes my wife, Michelle, and granddaughter, Serenity, like to make that are easy and make getting nuts into your diet even easier. Team them with berries for delicious, quick, easy meal additions.

Crave-able Cranberry Nut Concoction

Start with cranberries, a variety of nuts and fruits for an any-time-of-year cranberry relish.
Grab some handfuls of your favorite nuts. Broken pecans, walnuts (or black walnuts), slivered almonds, unsalted cashews, macadamia nuts or whatever you love will work. Mix 1/2 cup each up to 2 full cups of nuts. Add a can of whole cranberries, well-drained mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks. (Use fresh pineapple only if it is fully ripe and sweet.) Stir together and let the flavors merge, even overnight in the refrigerator if you wish. Serve in individual ramekins.
If your family uses gelatin, mix one package in boiling water and thoroughly dissolve the sugar free gelatin, then mix with the cranberry mixture for a mold that will keep in your refrigerator for days (unless it disappears by popular demand). Vegetarians may wish to use Chia seeds instead of gelatin.

Nuts for breakfast

Try your favorite nuts by the handful with dried fruits, fresh berries, and/or seeds mixed with muesli or granola for a supercharged start to your day. Or add some yogurt or kefir.
A great snack for kids and a Girl Scout favorite is this one. Core an apple, mix equal parts almond or peanut butter and granola sufficient to fill the middle of the cored apple. Slice and serve the slices rich with the nutty, granola filling. Yummy. You and your kids will go nuts and your heart will thank you.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.