Dear Dr. Blonz: Snacks are a real problem at our house. Whenever our children are given the option to select one, they always go for sugary junk, or high-fat chips with a can of soda pop. I keep trying to get them to eat more fruit and it works to some degree, but I need some suggestions that will satisfy their hunger and be nutritious at the same time--without sugar, if possible. I can't blame it all on the kids, as I find myself facing the same dilemma at work. I am considering trying nuts as a snack, but I am concerned because they are so high in fat. What is your opinion of nuts as a snack food?
Dear M.Q.: Snacks are an ever-present fixture in our diet. When we have neither the time nor the desire to sit down and have a full meal, we tend to quench our hunger pangs with a quick bite. As inevitable as these occurrences are, most of us fail to plan ahead and find ourselves at the mercy of whatever's available in a vending machine or fast-food outlet.
I think nuts are a great alternative. Whether packaged or sold in bulk, they can be a healthier choice than French fries, chips, candy, cookies, pastries and the like.
Nuts are high in fat, but that's not the whole story. They're a whole food that's versatile, they taste good, and they pack a variety of nutrients. In nature, the nut serves as the energy savings account for the plant.
The fats in nuts are predominantly monounsaturated, a type found to have little effect on the risk of heart disease in an otherwise healthy diet.
Walnuts, for example, are the oldest tree food known to man. A 1-ounce serving of walnuts is a good source of magnesium and copper, and provides about one-fourth of the daily value of vitamin E. One of the unique characteristics of walnuts is that they are a good source of omega-3 fats--the heart-healthy fats more commonly found in fish. Research on walnuts, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that a daily intake had a beneficial effect on serum lipids (the fats in our blood).
Almonds provide more evidence supporting the healthfulness of nuts. Aside from being high in protein, almonds are a rich source of vitamin E, dietary fiber and many of the B vitamins. Although almonds contain a number of minerals, they are one of the best nondairy sources of calcium and magnesium.
Peanuts are the most popular nuts. Whether eaten as nuts or as peanut butter, they have more protein than any other nut. Peanuts contain a number of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Recent research has discovered that peanuts are also a source of resveratrol, a valuable antioxidant phytochemical.
Walnuts, almonds and peanuts get up to about 80% of their calories from fat. Although this is a red flag against eating large quantities, the actual recommended serving size is about 1 ounce a day. That translates to about 14 halves of walnuts, about 24 to 30 almonds and 35 peanuts. The benefits of consuming 1 ounce of nuts a day, which contains about 170 calories, far outweigh any fat liability.
Nuts are useful in helping to satisfy the sometimes insatiable energy demands of growing children. They can be used in morning cereal and make a great lunch-box or after-school treat.
Ed Blonz is the author of the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996). Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Assn., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or e-mail to: email@example.com. Personal replies cannot be provided.