Earlier this year, I received a big bag of pecans to sample. I’ve been munching from this huge bag several times a week, and I’ve found various ways to add them into my diet.

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. I had trouble getting it into my head that eating high-fat foods is okay, despite knowing that the no-fat diets of the '80s and '90s didn't do my waistline any favors.

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, fully embracing the mantra that “fat turns into fat,” I cringe.)

I've been participating in a university weight loss study that doesn’t restrict any foods; it simply restricts calories, encourages cardiovascular exercise, and helps me think differently about food. I’ve chosen to eat good fats (while counting the calories) including lots of free-range eggs, artisan cheeses from dairy farms I trust, butter, limited amounts of red meat, and nuts.

There's a lot to love about nuts

Nuts have many health benefits, and fellow food blogger Kimi wrote a great post detailing the health benefits of nuts, including almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and my nut of choice at the moment: 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 new analysis by researchers at Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology takes it further, finding that adding a daily serving of nuts may increase your lifespan. It found that people who eat at least 20 grams of nuts (that's roughly a handful) a day have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. According to Eureka Alert, this amount "can cut people's risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30 percent, their risk of cancer by 15 percent, and their risk of premature death by 22 percent."

Add nuts the right way

Those are impressive numbers, but still, you should be smart about adding nuts to your daily diet. A big slice of pecan pie or a brownie full of walnuts isn't the way to go if you want to eat 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 into a green salad.
  2. Add them to your hot cereal, like this Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal, which includes walnuts.
  3. Create your own 100-calorie 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 of chips or cookies.
  4. Chop the nuts up really finely and add them to pureed soups for a little crunch.
  5. Sprinkle pistachios on pasta with a lemony sauce. (Trust me, it's really good.)
  6. Throw in some almonds with your green beans.
  7. Pulverize them and add them to a banana smoothie.

This story was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated with more recent information.

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