Nuts are a terrific snack or addition to a meal for children and adults with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Not only are they delicious and satisfying, they provide a mighty nutritional punch in a small package, says registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Malena Perdomo, MS, RD, CDE. Nuts give us antioxidants, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, protein, heart-healthy fats and more!
Control Blood Glucose
"Nuts contain a nice balance of protein and fat," says Perdomo. By combining nuts with a high-carbohydrate food like cereal, bread or fruit, you can expect lower blood glucose readings after eating than if you or your child ate the high-carb food alone. For example, explains Perdomo, when individuals with type 2 diabetes ate an ounce of mixed nuts with white bread as part of a research study, their blood glucose after eating was lower than when they ate the bread alone. A similar study among healthy adults showed that eating pistachios with rice or pasta also limited the rise in blood glucose readings after eating.
Love nuts for their magnesium content too. Among its many roles, this mineral may affect the release and activity of insulin, the hormone that helps control blood glucose levels. Interestingly, many people with type 2 diabetes have low blood levels of magnesium. and according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, magnesium is one of the under-consumed nutrients. Other good sources of magnesium are whole grains, beans and spinach.
There are so many ways to please the taste buds and nourish the body with nuts at snack time. Along with their unique tastes, nuts each have a unique nutrient profile. And when you pair them with other nutrient-dense foods, you're getting a super dose of good-for-you nutrition. Toss chopped pistachios and diced peaches into yogurt. Offer your kids a half a peanut butter and banana sandwich made with whole grain bread. Mix walnuts with dried tart cherries for a simple trail mix, or spread almond butter on sliced apple. Your kids will have fun learning the names and identifying the distinct tastes of a variety of nuts. Put out a small bowl with pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and more. Enjoy!
Even though nuts are high in fat, they can be an important part of a weight reduction program. Some studies suggest that frequent nut eaters are leaner than those who eat nuts infrequently. Why? One theory is that nuts are satisfying and suppress hunger, leading to less food intake overall. That's what researchers in a Texas middle school found. When they replaced the students' usual snack with a daily snack of 1 ounce of peanuts or 3/4 ounce of peanut butter with vegetables for dipping, the kids' diets improved and they lost weight. Nuts in their shell may offer another advantage: cracking the shell makes the snack last longer, presumably increasing satisfaction.
Don't assume that because a little is good, a lot is better, however. The middle school students were given a single serving of nuts or nut butter. Too much will likely lead to weight gain. Nuts are about 160-200 calories per ounce, so "we need to be mindful of the portion sizes we consume," urges California-based registered dietitian Jill Nowak, RD, CDE. Have your kids stick to about 1-1 1/2 ounces per day.
But there's one caveat: for children under the age of four, nuts may be a choking hazard unless they are finely chopped.