Cracking Open the Story of Nuts
Students investigate a variety of nuts, discover how and where they are grown, and explore their nutritional benefits. Grades 3-5
Activity 1: Types of Nuts
Activity 2: Nutritional Benefits of Nuts
- Food Label Smarts video
- Packages of nuts with Nutrition Facts Labels (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts) or Nut Nutrition Facts Cards (Raw Nuts) Safety Note: Use the card instead of bringing nuts into the classroom if you have any students with food allergies.
- Nut Nutrition Comparison activity sheet
- Group folder
Activity 3: Advertising Nuts
- Group folder
- Computers, paper, posters, markers, and other materials for creating advertisements
MyPlate: nutritional guide published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); icon depicting a place setting with a plate and glass divided into five food groups
nutrient: a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life
Nutrition Facts: a label required by law on food packages indicating the nutritional composition of the food
protein: an essential nutrient responsible for building tissue, cells, and muscle
Did You Know?
- It takes 7-10 years before a pecan tree begins to produce a full supply of nuts, and then has the potential to produce for more than 100 years.5
- Cashews are in the same plant family as poison ivy and poison sumac, and their itch-inducing oil is contained in the shell. That's why you will only find shelled cashews for sale.6
- Some nuts have nicknames. A filbert is a hazelnut and a goober is a peanut.
Background Agricultural Connections
What is a nut? There are two different definitions—botanical and culinary. Botanically, nuts are the composite of a seed and dry fruit found inside a hard, outer shell that does not open to release the seed. True nuts include chestnuts and hazelnuts. From a culinary perspective, nuts contain an oily, tender flesh surrounded by a hard, outer shell. By this definition, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, pistachio nuts, and pine nuts are not considered nuts in a botanical sense, but can be considered nuts by the culinary definition. By the botanical definition, peanuts are actually considered to be legumes; however, their nutritional characteristics categorize them as nuts for culinary purposes.1
Most edible nuts grow on trees, but peanuts grow underground. Some nuts are mainly grown outside of the United States and imported into the country. Raw nuts can be purchased shelled or pre-shelled. They are used in baked goods, granola bars, trail mix, salads, spreads and dips, and eaten raw as a healthy snack. Some nuts are used for non-dairy milk substitutes.2 Nuts consumed in the United States include:
- Almonds: California is the only state that commercially produces almonds. The United States is the world's largest almond producer, growing 80% of the world's almonds. Almonds are grown on trees and are harvested by mechanically shaking the tree. Almonds are consumed as snacks and in goods such as cereal and granola bars. Almonds can be made into flour, milk, butter, paste, or oil.
- Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are not grown in the United States. Bolivia is the world's top producer. While there are some plantations, most Brazil nuts are harvested from the wild. They grow in a pod weighing up to 5 1/2 pounds and drop from 160-foot (18-story) high trees at a rate of 50 miles per hour. This makes harvesting dangerous. Brazil nuts are typically eaten raw, blanched, or roasted and can be chopped up over salads, cereal, porridge, or desserts. But don't eat too many! Brazil nuts contain selenium and eating too many (11-12 nuts) can lead to poisoning.
- Cashews: Vietnam and India are the world's leading producers of cashews. There is no commercial production in the United States. Cashew nuts form out of the swollen end of the tree's stem known as the cashew apple. The cashew apple falls from the tree and is collected by machine from the ground. The nut is then separated from the cashew apple. Cashews are eaten raw or roasted and can be incorporated in stir fries, soups, salads, and stews. Cashews are also used to make cashew butter and cheese.
- Chestnuts: Chestnuts are grown in Michigan, Florida, California, Oregon, and Virginia. The United States grows less than 1% of the world's chestnuts. Chestnuts are grown on trees and are ready for harvest after they drop to the ground and are released from their enclosed bur. Harvesting machines sweep and/or vacuum chestnuts from the ground. Some varieties of chestnuts should not be eaten raw because their tannic acid content could cause gastrointestinal distress. Chestnuts are eaten roasted, boiled, or glazed and mixed in stuffing and other dishes.
- Hazelnuts (Filberts): 99% of U.S. hazelnuts are produced in Oregon, representing 3-5% of the world's crop. Turkey is the world's leading hazelnut producer. Hazelnuts are grown on trees or bushy shrubs. After hazelnuts drop to the orchard floor, they are mechanically harvested by blowing them into windrows and using vacuums or sweepers to pick them up or by shaking or slapping the nut clusters off the branches and collecting them in the harvester's bins. Hazelnuts are used in candies or ground into flour for cakes, cookies, and breads.
- Macadamia Nuts: South Africa is the world's largest producer of macadamia nuts. While they can be grown in California and Florida, most U.S. commercially produced macadamia nuts are grown in Hawaii. Macadamia nuts are grown on trees and are harvested manually or with mechanical sweepers and pickup devices. Macadamia nuts are used for candies, baking, ice cream, snack foods, and skin care.
- Peanuts: Peanuts are commercially grown in 13 states. Georgia produces the most followed by Florida, Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina. The United States grows about 5% of the world's peanuts. China is the world's largest peanut producer. Peanut plants flower above ground and fruit below ground. Botanically, they are legumes. Peanuts are harvested by diggers that pull up the plant, shake off excess soil, rotate the plant so that the peanuts are up, and lay it back down in a windrow to dry for 2-3 days. A combine separates the peanuts from the vines, placing the peanuts into a hopper on the top of the machine. Peanuts are purchased raw and are processed into multiple products—boiled peanuts, roasted peanuts, peanut brittle, peanut butter, peanut oil, peanut flour, and biodiesel.
- Pecans: Pecans are grown in 15 states, with Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas being the top producing states. The United States is the world's largest pecan producer. Pecans are grown on trees and harvested by shaking the tree with large, mechanized shakers. A harvester collects the pecans from the ground and collects them into a bin. Pecans are used as appetizers and as additions to salads, cakes, candies, and cookies.
- Pine Nuts: China, Russia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are the largest producers of pine nuts (North Korea is the 3rd largest producer, but their pine nuts cannot be legally sold in the U.S.). In the United States, pine nut production has drastically decreased in part due to their difficulty to harvest. Pine nuts are one of the most expensive nuts because of the time they require to be grown and harvested. Pine nuts grow on specific varieties of pine trees inside a pine cone. They are mostly harvested by hand by smashing the cone to release the pine nut and then separating the pine nut from the cone. Each pine nut also has a second shell that must be removed before eating. Pine nuts are eaten raw, roasted, used to make pesto, or as an ingredient in breads, cookies, cakes, sauces, and meat, fish, and vegetable dishes.
- Pistachios: Iran and the United States are the world's leading pistachio producers. In the United States, California produces about 99% of the pistachios grown. Pistachios grow on trees and are harvested by shaking the tree with a mechanical harvesting machine. The pistachios fall into a catching frame without ever touching the ground. Pistachios are sold shelled, unshelled, salted, or roasted. They are also used as ingredients in candies, baked goods, ice cream, and flavorings.
- Walnuts: Almost all U.S. walnuts are grown in California. The United States ranks second in walnut production behind China. Walnuts are grown on trees and harvested by mechanical shakers and harvesters that pick them up. Walnuts are sold as a snack item or for use in candies, cereals, and baked goods.
In addition to California, the state that grows the majority of U.S. nuts, the Southeast and the Southwest grow many varieties. The following list shows where nuts are commercially grown in the United States:
- Alabama: peanuts
- Arkansas: pecans
- California: almonds, chestnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts
- Florida: chestnuts, peanuts
- Georgia: peanuts, pecans
- Hawaii: macadamia nuts
- Michigan: chestnuts
- New Mexico: peanuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts
- North Carolina: peanuts
- Oklahoma: peanuts, pecans
- Oregon: chestnuts, hazelnuts
- South Carolina: peanuts, pecans
- Texas: peanuts, pecans
- Virginia: chestnuts, peanuts
Nuts are energy-dense and rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, proteins, and healthy fats. Most nuts are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, essential nutrients that help prevent and manage heart disease. A recent study by the University of Georgia suggests that pecans can improve a person's cholesterol levels.7
Nuts fall under the protein section of MyPlate. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people eat 5 ounces of nuts per week for a 2,000 calorie per day level diet.3 As much as 80% of a nut is fat, although most is healthy fat. Because of their high fat content, nuts are high in calories and portion sizes should be limited.4
Nutrition Facts labels are important tools to help consumers be aware of the contents of their foods in order to meet and not exceed their nutrition requirements. Food labels contain the following information:
- Servings Per Container: Show the total number of servings found in the entire package.
- Serving Size: This quantity is based on the amount customarily eaten at one time, though typical serving sizes often exceed recommended serving sizes.
- Calories: A unit of measurement used to define the amount of energy a food provides the body.
- Fat: A macronutrient that provides energy, stores energy, and helps digest fat-soluble vitamins. There are four types of fat; polyunsaturated fat, monosaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat.
- Sodium: Refers to the mineral table, or sodium chloride. Sodium helps in the function of nerves, muscles, and fluid balance in the body.
- Carbohydrate: A macronutrient which supplies energy to support bodily functions and physical activity. Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, celluloses, and gums.
- Fiber: The portion of plant-derived food that cannot be completely broken down by digestive enzymes. Fiber improves digestive enzymes. Fiber improves digestive health and lowers the risk of many chronic diseases.
- Sugar: The sum of naturally occurring sugars and added sugars in a food. Naturally occurring sugars include fructose in fruit or lactose in dairy products. Added sugars are those added in the processing of food in the form of table sugar, honey, syrups, etc.
- Protein: A macronutrient needed to maintain bone, muscle, and skin health.
- Vitamins and Minerals: This section declares the amount of vitamins or minerals found in each serving of food. Vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium are required on the label because they have been found to be most at risk of being deficient in the United States.
- % Daily Value: The percent of each nutrient provided in one serving of the food based on recommendations for a 2,000-calorie diet.
- Ask the students to make a list of as many different types of edible nuts as they can think of.
- Use the information from the Background Agricultural Connections section of this lesson to introduce the students to the botanical and culinary definitions of a nut.
- Ask the students which of the nuts on their list meet the botanical definition of a nut.
- Explain that they will investigate a variety of nuts, discover how and where they are grown, and explore their nutritional benefits.
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Types of Nuts
- Divide the class into eleven groups. Allow each group to draw one Nut Information Card out of a hat or box.
- Provide each student with a Become a Nut Expert activity sheet.
- Explain to the groups that they will become experts for the nut on their card. Instruct them to read the information on the card, watch the video (links provided on the cards and below), and search for information online to complete their activity sheet.
- Provide each group with a folder, and instruct them to label the folder with the name of the nut they were assigned and the names of everyone in their group. Direct them to place their Nut Information Card and completed Become a Nut Expert activity sheet in their folder. Explain that they will add additional information to the folder and then use it at the end of the lesson to create an advertisement about their nut.
Activity 2: Nutritional Benefits of Nuts
- Discuss the nutritional benefits of nuts:
- Nuts are energy-dense and rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
- Most nuts are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, essential nutrients that help prevent and manage heart disease.
- Nuts fall under the protein section of MyPlate.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people eat 5 ounces of nuts per week for a 2,000 calorie per day level diet.3
- As much as 80% of a nut is fat, although most is healthy fat.
- Because of their high fat content, nuts are high in calories and portion sizes should be limited.4
- Explain the importance of understanding the amount of calories, fat, protein, and dietary fiber present in the food you eat:
- Calories are a unit of measurement that tells us the amount of energy a food provides the body.
- Fat provides energy, stores energy, and helps digest vitamins.
- Protein helps to maintain bones, muscles, and skin health.
- Fiber helps our bodies digest food properly.
- Have the students watch the Food Label Smarts video to learn about Nutrition Facts labels and how to read them.
- Keeping the students in their same groups from Activity 1, provide each group with a package of or the Nut Nutrition Facts Card (Raw Nuts) for their previously assigned nut. (Safety Note: Use the cards instead of bringing nuts into the classroom if you have any students with food allergies.) Hand out a Nut Nutrition Comparison activity sheet to each student.
- Using the information from their Nut Nutrition Facts Card, each group should fill in the information for their nut on their Nut Nutrition Comparison activity sheet.
- Bring the students back together as a class and project the activity sheet onto a large screen using a document camera. Explain to the class that they are going to compare the nutritional facts of the 11 different nuts the groups have been researching. Have a representative from each group share the nutritional information for their assigned nut. Record the information on the projected activity sheet as the students record the information on their sheets.
- After all of the information has been recorded, lead a discussion comparing the nutritional value of the 11 nuts. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
- Which nut contains the most calories? Which contains the least?
- Which nut contains the most total fat? Which contains the least?
- Which nut contains the most protein? Which contains the least?
- Which nut contains the most dietary fiber? Which contains the least?
- Have the students place their facts cards and activity sheets into their group folders.
Activity 3: Advertising Nuts
- Using the information from their group folder, instruct the groups to create an advertisement about their nut. Have the groups choose from the following types of advertisements:
- TV commercial
- Social media ad
- Newspaper or magazine ad
- Radio ad
- Brochure or leaflet
- Advertisements should include the following information:
- Name of the nut
- Where the nut is grown
- How the nut is grown and harvested
- How the nut is consumed
- Nutritional value of the nut
- Why consumers should purchase and eat the nut
- Allow time for the students to create their advertisement and then present it to the class.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- There are two different definitions for nuts—botanical and culinary. Botanically, nuts are the composite of a seed and dry fruit found inside a hard, outer shell that does not open to release the seed. From a culinary perspective, nuts contain an oily, tender flesh surrounded by a hard, outer shell.
- By the botanical definition, peanuts are legumes.
- California grows the most nuts in the United States.
- Nuts are energy-dense and rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, proteins, and healthy fats.
- Nutrition Facts labels are important tools to help consumers be aware of the contents of their foods in order to meet and not exceed their nutrition requirements.
Recommended Companion Resources
- A Home Run for Peanuts
- A Picture Book of George Washington Carver
- A Pocketful of Goobers
- Burn a Peanut- Count Calories
- From Peanut to Peanut Butter
- George Washington Carver for Kids: His Life and Discoveries, with 21 Activities
- George Washington Carver: Ingenious Inventor
- In the Garden with Dr. Carver
- My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me
- NMSU Field Trip! Video Series
- One Thousand Black Walnuts
- The Little Plant Doctor: A Story About George Washington Carver
- The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver