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Quick, healthy treats are right in your pantry.

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

I've never really been much of a 'dessert' person. Back when I was still using animal products (butter, in this case), I made the occasional fresh fruit galette. I still make them once or twice a year for the holidays. As we've entered our third year of the whole-food, plant-based, no added oil way of eating, we've both found that our 'taste' for sweet things has really diminished. But, not gone away entirely.

I've always kept nuts and dried fruit in the pantry. They made nice additions to baked goods. Now, however, they are brought out to the table on a daily basis rather than languishing in the back of the cupboard.

Dried fruits and nuts can absolutely be part of a healthy plant-based diet. This is especially true when they replace other less healthy options. Many gimmicky boxed and bagged 'snack' foods are filled with highly processed ingredients, trans and/or saturated fats, sodium and sugar. They're marketed in deceiving ways. A 'Low fat' product might be high in sugar, for example. A product that touts 'whole grains', might include trans fats as part of the unhealthy package. And, unless you see a whole grain listed first in the ingredients, the product might only contain enough to put that claim on the front of the package, when, in fact, highly processed grains are primary. Look past the claims on the front of the package. Always.

Dried fruit is very nutritious, although most of its water content has been removed through various drying methods. What's left is smaller, and energy (and calorie) dense. By weight, dried fruit contains up to 3.5 times the fiber, vitamins and minerals of fresh fruit. Dried fruit generally contains a lot of fiber and is a great source of antioxidants, especially polyphenol antioxidants. These antioxidants are associated with improved blood flow, better digestive health, decreased oxidative damage and reduced risk of many diseases.

Dried fruit can be preserved for much longer than fresh fruit and can be a handy snack, particularly on long trips where refrigeration is not available.

Raisins, figs, dates and prunes - all examples of dried fruits - are widely available. They're often available, less expensively, in bins - such as at my local Winco Foods! As you've probably noticed, they're also quite sweet. Their sugars are concentrated, and therefore have higher levels of fructose compared to their fresh counterparts. Like most things, they should be consumed in moderation, as part of a healthy - and hopefully plant-based - diet. What is 'moderation'? For me, it's a few dried figs and perhaps a pitted date after lunch. It seems to be just enough to satisfy - and help keep me feeling 'full' for hours. And, there's the benefit of added fiber and nutrients.

If there's a warning sign in regard to dried fruits, it would be the kind coated in sugar, or 'candied'. I give that stuff a hard pass. It's kind of 'gilding the lily' to put sugar on top of sugar.

Nuts are another favorite. They're healthy - in moderation - with ample plant protein, unsaturated fatty acids - including Omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol lowering plant sterols, fiber and more. They store well, and travel easily - perfect for people on the go. I generally don't buy more than we'll eat over the course of a week to ten days, however. I store them in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark pantry.

We particularly like pecans and pistachios (the roasted, shelled but unsalted kind). I also have walnuts and raw cashews handy. I often use the cashews in my easy to make, plant-based mayonnaise and sauces.

What is a healthy serving of nuts? About what you can fit into the palm of your hand without it touching your fingers. Actually, since I eat them daily, I err on the side of less than a palm full. But, considering that my diet is entirely whole-food, plant-based, without any added, refined oils, I figure that I can have nuts daily rather than just a few times per week. My lab results suggest that I'm doing it just right. And, my doctor agrees. Your situation might be different. If you're still consuming added oils or animal products, or have certain medical conditions, you might want to exercise more caution in keeping with your doctor's advice, and expert recommendations.

Keeping fruits and nuts in the pantry, in nice containers, make it easy to put them out on the table at mealtimes. It's also a great thing to put out for when friends drop in for a cuppa, as I'm not likely to have cookies and such on hand.

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