By Kat Brown, ASU Nutrition student
Nuts have been long touted for their super-food benefits. Whether you are grabbing them on the go or adding them to your meal, nuts provide energy and essential nutrients. Even better, many of them can be grown right here in Arizona. These nuts do well in dry desert areas and can provide a big impact with a small serving.
Photography by Tiffani Marsh
Arizona produced 20 million pounds of pecans in 2012 with a value of $32 million, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As for pistachios, more than $15 million is generated to Arizona and New Mexico with their major producer, California, raking in more than $1.16 billion according to the American Pistachio Growers.
Plus, in 2014 the United States exported $2.7 billion worth of tree nuts, again according to the USDA. That is up 20 percent compared to the previous year, according to the USDA report, and also sets a record for exports since 1970.
So, here’s some details about three of my favorite nut varieties including the two Arizona nut types just mentioned above!
These “nuts” are actually a drupe that consists of a hard shell surrounded by an outer hull. When you purchase almonds in the store, they are usually sold without the outer hull. This is called a “shelled” almond. Almonds are packed with vitamin E and protein. Vitamin E works as an antioxidant in the body and when added to the diet it enhances plasma anti-oxidant levels, such as alpha-tocopherol. Alpha-tocopherol is the active form of vitamin E that works in the body to protect against free radicals. However, it is important to keep in mind that vitamin E can be destroyed by heat, so to maximize health benefits eat your almonds raw. Additionally, vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin; so to maximize absorption, dietary fat must be present. 1 ounce of almonds has approximately 14 grams of total fat which will help to maximize nutrient absorption. A recent study also reported that almonds may have less calories per serving than previously thought. Almond trees can flourish in the Sonoran Desert area, and usually bloom in the spring.
These nuts have one of the highest contents of antioxidants along with walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts. Pecans provide a variety of health benefits, and even better can be purchased locally. These nuts store well and are an excellent source of vitamins. Here in Arizona they are typically harvested from November to January to allow the trees to freeze, and then the nuts can be harvested. Pecan health benefits include a high fiber content, the lowering of LDL cholesterol, and the provision of vitamins A, E, and B, and several other vitamin and minerals. The USDA ranked pecans as the most antioxidant rich tree nut. So support your local pecan growers and reap all the health benefits! For more fun facts about pecans check out this previous Fill Your Plate article.
If you celebrated nation pistachio day, you may already know that pistachios are actually a seed and not technically a nut. But did you know that when shopping for pistachios you should choose the ones that have their shells already opened? The pressure of the growing pistachio forces the shell open and indicates it is ripe and ready to enjoy. Additionally, one ounce of pistachios provides 2.9 grams of fiber. The daily recommendation for fiber for women is 25 grams per day, with it being 38 grams per day for men. Fiber can help provide the feeling of satiety and the act of shelling the pistachio helps to slow eating and provides a visual for how many pistachios you have consumed. A one ounce serving of pistachios contains almost 50 nuts and recent studies say that they can contribute to weight management. Pistachio trees are native desert trees that prefer long dry summers and moderate winters.
Check out some recipes to incorporate these Arizona nuts into your daily diet:
Pecan-crusted turkey tenderloin
Chicken and pistachio “fried rice”
Editor’s Note: Kat Brown is currently finishing her bachelor’s degree in Dietetics at Arizona State University. In December 2015 she will also be completing a Child Nutrition Certificate that focuses on school lunch programs and policies. She completed her first bachelor’s degree in business and communication at ASU in 2009. She plans on pursuing her graduate degree in nutrition while completing her dietetic internship. She enjoys volunteering at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the Phoenix VA Health Care System, and St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix.