Nuts Are Protein in a Nutshell

Packed with protein and fiber, good fats, vitamins and minerals, many nuts have healing powers and almonds are becoming our favorite nut. If we are what we eat, are we going more nuts than ever?

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

We'd be nuts to miss the many new products coming into the market featuring nuts. Despite being high in cholesterol and fat, nuts benefitted from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines' changes that dietary cholesterol does not affect serum cholesterol and some fats can be beneficial. The guidelines also support nuts for their protein, and nutrient density.

Nuts provide essential amino acids, are filling and tasty. They’re also versatile as an ingredient for all sorts of products. IRI Worldwide's 2016 State of the Snack Industry report points out snack nuts realized 4.3 percent dollar sales growth in 2015 versus 2014, and is one of more than a dozen product categories in snacks showing absolute dollars sales growth.

The rise of vegetarianism and veganism are also prompting more consumption of nuts. A Harris Interactive study published in Vegetarian Times confirms at least 3 percent of American adults follow a veggie diet, while another 10 percent, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.

Almonds, in particular, are a favorite in the U.S. A survey from the Almond Board of California shows North American consumers named almonds their choice for snacking and the nut they think is most nutritious, with 6g of plant protein in a 2-oz. handful.

Most Americans are eating 220 percent more almonds than they did in 2005, says the Washington Post, far more than pecans, walnuts, macadamias, pistachios, cashews or even peanuts. That rise is even more eye opening compared to the early 1970s, when Americans ate just a quarter of a pound of almonds a year. Now, we knock back more than two pounds a year. A lot of this has to do with the healthy foods movement and the growing protein preferences in our diets.

Almond milk now accounts for nearly 5 percent of national milk sales, and almond butter can now be found on supermarket shelves around the country. Almond flour has certainly moved into the limelight on the heels of the nation's gluten-free boom.

Cashews also are packed with essential vitamins and minerals and high levels of iron, which help cells get enough oxygen, and zinc, which boosts immune function. Their levels of magnesium may boost memory and help protect against cognitive problems, while their levels of copper and magnesium may help protect bone strength.

Walnuts are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid we need that may help ease anxiety, depression and stress. They also contain melatonin, which can help regulate sleep and may play a role in preventing some cancers, according to several researchers.
Although peanuts aren't technically nuts, they provide energy and plenty of protein with a relatively small amount of fat.

Nuts fill demand for healthy, appetite-suppressing snacks, especially considering that snacking is so hot right now and is becoming an accepted part of our daily food consumption.

As the mini meal trend of snackification breaks down the traditional three-meals routine, an innovator named Sola Snacks LLC, Frisco, Tex., has unveiled gluten-free, Sola Bars feature an uncommon blend of crunchy peanuts, seeds, spices and herbs (chipotle and jalapeno peppers, cinnamon and roasted garlic and sea salt) and other wholesome nutrient-dense ingredients. A patent-pending process binds the ingredients with less need for sugar, the company says. "We are able to deliver healthy bars with simple ingredients and near-zero sugar, in flavors previously almost exclusive to salty snacks," remarks founder Sola Lamikanra.

Kraft Heinz's Planters brand just launched a quartet of dessert-inspired nut mixes, blending flavors from turtle and banana sundaes, oatmeal raisin cookies and chocolate-peanut brownies. And how's this for a nutty new indulgence? Sorbabes claims the first gourmet sorbet brand in frozen desserts that's nut-based, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO and more. The company offers two new nondairy varieties in its mix: Salted Peanut Butter & Dark Chocolate, and Double Chocolate Hazelnut & Fudge. It also makes a decadent pistachio sorbet. CEO Nicole Cardone says the sorbets eat like ice cream but maintain all of the wellness benefits of their natural, farm-to-freezer, whole-food ingredients.

There's even a macadamia milk. Milkadamia, from an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based company by the same name, is free of dairy, soy, gluten and GMOs. If you like nuts with a fiery flavor, try Sriracha Flavored almonds from Blue Diamond Growers, Sacramento, Calif. The complex flavors have a tangy heat, with 170 calories, 6g of protein and no trans fat in a 28g serving.

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