I spend a disproportionate amount of time these days considering the topic of nuts. They’re on my mind, and not just because they are major players in my diet: I mix walnuts into my morning granola, snack on organic salted almonds all afternoon and throw some sort of toasted nut on top of most salads I eat at night. I’ve upped my consumption because nuts, according to an avalanche of reports I’ve read, are miracles of nutrition,a virtuous, high-protein anti-meat. But I am also aware that more recently, nuts have been demonized as thirsty, greedy for water, sucking California dry. Now, when I eat a nut, I cannot decide whether to congratulate myself on my healthy snacking or apologize to my two young sons for ravaging their country’s agricultural future. Nuts seem to embody all the extremes of our various food obsessions—our health, our environment and, of course, our menus, which manage to grow ever more sophisticated even as our choices of guilt-free foods become more limited.
Nuts as Health Food
For people who want to eat well, in every sense of the word, nuts are a not-so-secret weapon. Each year, another study seems to tell us that they provide the sure path to longevity and litheness, that they have almost supernaturally protective powers. Nut eaters are better defended against heart disease and various kinds of cancers than those who don’t consume nuts, the research suggests. Dieters who eat nuts lose more weight than dieters who do not. Nut enthusiasts have smaller waists, even, and less body fat than those who refrain. No amount of fat in nuts like almonds—and they are loaded with healthy fat—makes them fattening. They seem to defy and complicate the assumptions so many of us have in our deep-seated, psychologically loaded relationship with food. They are brilliantly designed by nature: efficiently crammed with nutrients, conveniently slow to spoil—they even travel well.