Late in the spring, I received a big bag of pecans to sample from Young Pecan. (I think they were supposed to arrive in time for pecan month, which is April, but they were delayed for some reason.) I’ve been munching from this huge bag several times a week, and I’ve found various ways to add them into my diet.

Up until recently, I wouldn’t have looked for ways to add nuts into my diet. I already felt guilty enough about my peanut butter addiction. Despite knowing that the no-fat diets of the '80s and '90s helped to increase the waistlines of the U.S. population, I had trouble getting it through my head that I could eat high-fat foods and it would be okay.

Recent research has shown that healthy fats, even some saturated fats, can be healthy. Those who tend to stay away from fat consume more carbohydrates, and those carbohydrates, especially those from refined grains, get stored in the body just like sugar. When I think of all the huge bagels I ate in the early '90s without any butter or cream cheese thinking it would help me lose weight because my friends and I embraced the mantra “fat turns into fat,” I cringe.

As you may know, over the past half-year or so, I’ve been doing a university weight loss study. I’m doing very well. The program doesn’t restrict any foods; it restricts calories, encourages cardiovascular exercise, and helps you think differently about food. I’ve chosen to eat good fats (while counting their calories) including lots of free-range eggs, artisan cheeses from dairy farms I trust, butter, limited amounts of red meat, and nuts.

Nuts have many health benefits, and my fellow MNN food blogger Kimi wrote a great post detailing the health benefits of nuts including almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and my nut of choice for the summer, pecans. Just an ounce, about a handful (but you should weigh them for accuracy), can help you meet your daily requirements for protein, fiber, healthy fats, and many vitamins and minerals.

One study even suggested that adding a daily serving of nuts may increase your lifespan. It found that “people who ate a daily ounce of nuts were 29 percent less likely to die of heart disease, 24 percent less likely to die from respiratory disease and 11 percent less likely to die from cancer.”

You should be smart about adding nuts to your diet daily. A big slice of pecan pie or a brownie full of walnuts is not the way to go if you’re choosing nuts for their health benefits. Here are seven smart ways to add a handful of nuts to your day and reap the benefits of the healthy fats and other nutrients.

  1. Chop them up and throw them on a green salad.
  2. Add them to your hot cereal like in this Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal that includes walnuts.
  3. Create your own 100 calorie-ish snack. About 10 almonds and half an ounce of really good cheddar cheese have just a little over 100 calories. It will be much more satisfying and keep you fuller longer than opening one of those 100-calorie packages chips or cookies.
  4. Chop them really finely and add them to pureed soups for a little crunch.
  5. Sprinkle pistachios on pasta with a lemony sauce. It’s so good.
  6. Throw in some almonds with your green beans.
  7. Pulverize them and add them to a banana smoothie.
How do you easily add healthy nuts into your daily diet?

Also on MNN

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.