One of my favorite holiday candles for years was roasted hazelnut-scented, but I have to admit, I didn’t officially taste the real thing until I was out of college. Once I did, though, I immediately fell in love. Just in case you haven’t tasted the nut before yourself, it’s a little sweeter and more buttery than most other kinds of nuts, at least in my opinion. But aside from the flavor punch they carry, the health benefits of hazelnuts are nut something to be taken lightly (why yes, I did just go there with that pun), especially the benefits laid out in a new study.
The study, which has been published in The Journal of Nutrition, tested the health benefits of hazelnuts on 32 people ages 55 and older. The participants ate about a third of a cup of hazelnuts every day for 16 weeks, and by the end, the results showed a higher level of magnesium and vitamin E in their blood.
While the experiment primarily focused on older adults, the researchers have argued that anyone could benefit from adding this nutritious nut to their diet. “The findings demonstrate the power of adding hazelnuts to your diet, of just changing one thing," Maret Traber, study co-author and professor at Oregon State University, said in a statement for the study’s press release. "Vitamin E and magnesium are two of the most underconsumed micronutrients in the U.S. population, and there’s much more to hazelnuts than what we analyzed here."
It’s true: There really is so much more to these little guys. "Like most nuts, hazelnuts are nutrient-dense," Rachel Fine MS, RD, CSSD, CDN, a registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, tells Elite Daily over email. "Specifically, they are a rich source of monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid, and polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids." In other words, hazelnuts are packed with all kinds of healthy fats, meaning they don’t just nourish you, they usually keep you feeling pretty full and satisfied after you eat, too.
These small, but mighty hazelnuts are also full of plant-based protein and fiber, Fine explains, making it an especially great food to add to a vegetarian or vegan meal. What’s more, Fine tells Elite Daily that hazelnuts are a great source of iron (which helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body), as well as vitamin B6 (which is linked to improved mood and reduced risk of heart disease, among other benefits, as per Healthline).
Luckily, you don’t have to chow down on a whole pile of hazelnuts to benefit from its nutrients. "One serving of hazelnuts provides more than 90 percent of the recommended daily amount of manganese," says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, of 80 Twenty Nutrition, "a nutrient that helps regulate blood sugar levels and plays a role in converting fat and carbohydrates into energy."
If you’ve ever eaten half a jar of Nutella in one sitting (we’ve all been there, right?) or enjoyed a decadent Ferrero Rocher, then you already know that hazelnuts are incredible for dessert. But from a nutritional standpoint, is it better to leave them raw, or to roast them? According to certified culinary nutrition expert and holistic nutritionist, Kristen Ciccolini, CNE, it doesn’t really matter if you cook them, but another preparation method could make the nutrients more available, she explains. "As with all nuts, they’ll be more nutritious after soaking," Ciccolini tells Elite Daily in an email. "This removes the phytic acid that keeps us from absorbing all of the hazelnut’s benefits." Pro tip: Even if you need a roasted nut for a specific recipe, you can still soak them properly and then roast the hazelnuts again until they’re crispy, so you’ll have the best of both worlds.
One key to absorbing even more nutrients from hazelnuts is to leave the skin on them. "If you want to preserve the beneficial properties of hazelnuts, it is recommended to consume whole, un-roasted kernels with the skin rather than peeled kernels, either roasted or un-roasted," Fine explains. While the skin of a hazelnut can be a little bitter at times, it won’t make much of a difference if you’re using the nuts in a recipe.
Once you’ve made, say, the perfect chocolate-caramel hazelnut tart, try branching out into more savory dishes. "Ground hazelnuts are a great gluten-free and paleo-friendly alternative to breading for chicken and fish," says Brissette. This hazelnut and parmesan-crusted chicken from BBC looks like an awesome, festive centerpiece for any holiday party.
You could even try incorporating hazelnuts into your pancakes on Christmas morning (or literally any morning, because why not?). By blitzing them in a food processor, they’ll turn into a flour consistency that you can use in baking the way you might almond flour, says Ciccolini. Top with some cranberries and some quality maple syrup for a deliciously festive start to your day.
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