How to get the health benefits of nuts without the cost

by Jennifer Bowden / 21 January, 2018

Photo/Getty Images

QUESTIONOn the strength of the constant refrain that nuts should be part of our daily diet, I bought bags of cashew nuts, almonds and brazil nuts from the bulk-foods section of my supermarket. The three moderately sized bags came to $50. How many people on a standard budget can afford that on a regular basis? Any suggestions for affordably incorporating nuts – other than peanuts – into the diet?

ANSWERNuts are the shining star of the healthy food realm. Let’s face it, few people rave about cruciferous vegetables, swedes or beans, which, incidentally, are all sound options.

Nuts, however, are the subject of many devoted social-media posts – “peanut butter is the glue that holds this body together”, for instance. People fight over the last cashew nut in a bowl and nut butters are prominent in many recipes. What’s more, they taste good and are healthy.

Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrients. They contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein, dietary fibre, essential micronutrients such as folate, calcium, magnesium, copper and potassium and a range of phytochemicals.

The constituents of a handful of nuts a day will improve your overall diet. Nuts also help reduce several risk factors associated with heart disease, says Dave Monro, the Heart Foundation’s food and nutrition manager.

The Heart Foundation’s Dave Monro.

What about the cost? It depends on which ones you buy, says Monro. “Peanuts, almonds and walnuts are at the cheaper end of the scale, whereas brazil nuts are two to three times as expensive.”

Brand and quantity also affect price. You might expect bulk bins or bigger bags to be cheaper, but specials and sales can make smaller quantities better value. When I checked almond prices at a major supermarket, bulk nuts were $34.90 a kilogram compared with bagged almonds in 600g packs at $24.15/kg.

More than $20/kg may seem a lot, but it’s less than you’ll pay for many types of meat and seafood. And when you look at the price of nuts per serving, they are much cheaper – 30g of almonds, for example, work out at 72c.

Says Monro: “To get the health benefits of nuts, it’s recommended people have about 30g a day, the equivalent of a small handful, ideally as a replacement for high-sugar, high-salt, highly processed foods. Even if smaller amounts are eaten, or the 30g is eaten every second day, you receive more health benefits than consuming none.”

Money saved by cutting back on less-nutritious foods could be spent on nuts, effectively doubling the health benefits. But if nuts are still out of your price range, nut butters might be more cost-effective. 

“Evidence suggests the beneficial effects of nut butter, such as peanut butter, are comparable with whole nuts,” says Monro. So, eating one serving (two tablespoons) of plain nut butter may reduce your risk of heart disease. But choose varieties with low levels of added salt, sugar or oil.

Budget peanut butter with no added salt or sugar costs as little as $3 a 375g jar, which works out at 27c a serving. However, budget brands typically contain added plant oils.

Of course, this doesn’t help you if you want to avoid peanuts and peanut butter. In that case, stick with nuts such as almonds, comparing prices per 100g to find the cheapest, and ideally buy them when they’re on special.

If you can afford to eat them only every second day, that’s much better than not at all.

This article was first published in the December 9, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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