We’ve made no secret of our passion for nuts – many of our recipes include a sprinkle of toasted nuts or a slug of almond butter. We’re not alone: our almond butter dipping sauce is one of our most shared and pinned recipes on social media.
When it comes to ageing well, nuts are one of the most important weapons in our arsenal of ingredients. Report after report has highlighted their efficacy for improving health, thanks to their unique blend of fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
Two new reports have added significant weight to the arguments for consuming more nuts. A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the effects of tree nuts (pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, macadamias, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds and, particularly, walnuts) on cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation. Its conclusion? Eating nuts lowers LDL (aka ‘bad’) cholesterol, ApoB and triglycerides – all of which are linked to cardiovascular disease. The experts recommend around 40g – a good handful – of nuts a day to reap the benefits.
Meanwhile, a study recently published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care focussed exclusively on walnuts. Walnuts contain particularly large amounts of magnesium, Vitamin E and the B Vitamins. They’ve been credited with almost mythical powers –from slowing prostate cancer to reducing blood pressure. In this study, adults at risk of diabetes were fed a diet high in walnuts. Their blood vessel wall function was considerably improved (meaning blood is pumped more efficiently around the body) and their ‘bad’ cholesterol levels were significantly lowered.
One thing worried me about these reports: both were funded by organisations with a vested interest in nut consumption (one by the California Walnut Commission and one, in part, by the International Tree Nut Council). So are these reports inherently biased? And should we disregard them? If the studies had shown nuts were bad for us, would the results have been published at all? Or should we just be grateful someone’s funding much-needed research into the role of nutrition in reducing age-related degenerative diseases? I’m inclined to veer on the side of gratitude tempered with a pinch of cynicism….
But I don’t need an excuse to eat nuts. And I love this generously-nutty granola recipe which makes a hearty, high-protein start to the day. It’s oven baked, so needs a bit of preparation time (if you need a speedy version – try the stove-top granola Annabel posted last year). Unlike most shop-bought varieties, it’s light on added sugar. You can mix it up to include your favourite nuts and dried fruit – I’ve added cranberries here for seasonal flavour. This also makes a fantastic Christmas present – put it in a Kilner jar, add a festive ribbon and give it to your nearest and dearest. No need to bother with festively-scented candles either … this recipe is chock full of Christmas spices to make your kitchen smell fabulously fragrant.
For the syrup:
- 5tbs coconut oil, melted (or sunflower oil)
- 2tbs maple syrup
- 4 tbs apple juice
- 1tsp vanilla essence
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 225g jumbo/chunky oats
- 150g mixed nuts – walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds are my favourite – roughly chopped
- 2 tbs sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- 30g dried apricots chopped
- 30g dried cranberries, chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Mix the syrup ingredients together in a small bowl. Mix the oats, nuts and seeds in a large bowl, sprinkle over the syrup and stir well so all the oats are coated. Spread out in the biggest oven tray you have – or use two. I cook my granola for 11 minutes in my (fan) oven, then take it out, give it a good stir and put back for another 4-5 minutes. You wanted everything to be deeply golden but not too brown. Keep watching it! This isn’t a sticky, clumpy granola – there isn’t enough sugar for that – more of a toasty, crunchy one. Stir in the dried fruit as soon as the granola comes out of the oven and leave it all to cool. Serve over yoghurt and fruit or with milk for breakfast, a snack or dessert.