The media recently reported that walnuts can lower your cholesterol. And February's Prevention magazine reported that almonds and avocados will, too.
All three foods are high in mono-unsaturated fat, the kind in olive and canola oil. It lowers your LDL (bad cholesterol) without lowering your HDL (good cholesterol). This is good news.
But before you go nuts over these "miracle" foods, let's get some perspective.
The folks in the almond study, for instance, ate 3 1/2 ounces of almonds daily. That's 600 calories and 57 grams of fat.
If you're an active woman or a man on a diet, eating 2,000 calories a day, that's 30 percent of your calories and 86 percent of your fat for the day.
The avocado group ate 1 1/2 avocados daily, for 450 calories and 45 grams of fat. That's 23 percent of calories and 68 percent of fat for the day.
That's too much fat and energy to add to your daily fare, because it increases your risk for cancer and unnecessary weight gain.
The kernel of truth here is that reasonable amounts of nuts and avocados (olives, too) are good substitutes for other fats in your diet.
When you use them instead of butter, margarine, mayo, french fries, burgers, subs, cream soups, spare ribs or cheesecake, you get a double benefit.
First, you eliminate saturated fats or trans-fatty acids that could raise your cholesterol. Second, you use these foods that will lower your LDL, while adding a variety of trace minerals that improve your nutrition. Some time when you're having an otherwise low-fat day, try this soup adapted from "Hot, Hotter, Hottest" by Janet Hazan. The recipe makes four servings, only mildly hot, at 33 grams of mostly mono-unsaturated fat per serving.
Avocado soup with green peppercorns
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup green peppercorns in brine, drained
salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
2 1/2 quarts light chicken stock
cilantro leaves for garnish
In a large saucepan, cook onion, garlic and spices in the olive oil over moderate heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add avocados and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Puree soup in blender until smooth. Return to pan, bring to a boil, add peppercorns, reduce to moderate heat and cook 10 minutes. Serve garnished with cilantro and peppercorns.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.