Nuts are very good for you. While they are high in fat, in most cases, it’s healthy fat. They’re also a good source of fiber and protein. Many studies have shown that nuts have a number of health benefits, especially in regards to reducing risk factors for heart disease.
Health Benefits of Eating Nuts
In general, nuts are good sources of fat, fiber, and protein. Most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. However, they do contain some saturated fat. Nuts also contain a number of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and vitamin E. Many studies have investigated the health benefits of increased nut intake. One meta-analysis of 33 studies found that diets high in nuts do not significantly affect weight gain or weight loss.
But despite having little effect on weight, many studies have shown that people who eat nuts live longer than those who don’t. This may be due to their ability to help prevent a number of chronic diseases. For example, nuts may reduce risk factors for metabolic syndromes, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In fact, one study of over 1,200 people found that eating a Mediterranean diet plus 30 grams of nuts per day decreased the prevalence of metabolic syndrome more than a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet with olive oil. Furthermore, nuts may also reduce the risk of other chronic diseases. For example, eating nuts may improve blood sugar levels and even reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Bottom Line: Eating nuts may help reduce risk factors for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
Almonds are tree nuts that contain a number of beneficial nutrients.
One serving (28 grams or a small handful) contains roughly:
Calories: 161, Total fat: 14 gram, Protein: 6 grams, Carbs: 6 grams, Fiber: 3.5 grams, Vitamin E: 37% of the RDI, Magnesium: 19% of the RDI
Almonds may improve cholesterol levels. A number of small studies have found that eating an almond-rich diet can reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is particularly harmful to heart health.
However, many of these studies used a small number of participants. One larger study combined the results of five other studies and concluded that the evidence isn’t strong enough to suggest that almonds definitively improve cholesterol. Nevertheless, almonds consumed as part of a low-calorie diet may aid weight loss and lower blood pressure in people who are overweight or obese.
In addition, eating a meal with one ounce (28 grams) of almonds may help lower the rise in blood sugar that happens after a meal by as much as 30% in diabetics. However, there is no significant reduction in healthy people. Moreover, almonds have been shown to reduce inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes. Finally, almonds may have a beneficial effect on the gut microbiota by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, including bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.
Almonds contain a number of important nutrients that may help reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. However, larger studies are needed to confirm these effects.
Pistachios are a commonly consumed nut that is high in fiber.
A one-ounce serving (28 grams) of pistachios contains roughly:
Calories: 156, Total Fat:
12.5 grams, Protein: 6 grams, Carbs: 8 grams, Fiber: 3 grams, Vitamin E: 3% of the RDI, Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
Similarly to almonds, pistachios may improve cholesterol levels. Eating 2–3 ounces of pistachios a day may help increase “good” HDL cholesterol. Also, pistachios may help improve other risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure, weight and oxidative status. Oxidative status refers to blood levels of oxidized chemicals, which can contribute to heart disease. Furthermore, pistachios may help reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal.
Bottom Line: Pistachio nuts, if eaten in high quantities (more than 28 grams per day), appear to have beneficial effects on risk factors for heart disease.
Walnuts are a very popular nut and an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
A one-ounce serving of walnuts (28 grams) contains roughly:
Calories: 182, Total Fat: 18 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Carbs: 4 grams, Fiber: 2 grams, Vitamin E: 1% of the RDI, Magnesium: 11% of the RDI
Walnuts appear to improve a number of risk factors for heart disease. This may be due to their high content of ALA and other nutrients. A number of large studies have found that eating walnuts significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
Walnuts may also improve other factors related to heart health, including blood pressure and the normal flow of blood through the circulatory system. In addition, walnuts may help reduce inflammation, which can contribute to many chronic diseases. Interestingly, a study in college students found that eating walnuts increased a measure of cognition called “inferential reasoning,” suggesting that walnuts may have beneficial effects on the brain.
Bottom Line: Walnuts are a great source of the omega-3 fat ALA and many other nutrients. Eating walnuts may benefit heart health.
Cashews are part of the tree nut family and have a good nutrient profile.
One ounce of cashews contains roughly:
Calories: 155, Total Fat: 12 grams, Protein: 5 grams, Carbs: 9 grams, Fiber: 1 grams, Vitamin E: 1% of the RDI, Magnesium: 20% of the RDI
A number of studies have examined whether diets high in cashews can improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome. One study found that a diet containing 20% of calories from cashews improved blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome. Another study found cashews increased the antioxidant potential of the diet. Interestingly, a couple of studies have shown that eating diets high in cashews may increase blood sugar in people with metabolic syndrome. However, more studies are needed to confirm this effect.
Bottom Line: Although cashews contain a number of important nutrients, the evidence on whether they improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome isn’t clear.
Pecans are often used in desserts, but they are quite nutritious on their own.
One ounce of pecans contains roughly:
Calories: 193, Total Fat: 20 grams, Protein: 3 grams, Carbs: 4 grams, Fiber: 2.5 grams, Vitamin E: 2% of the RDI, Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
A few studies have shown that pecans can lower LDL cholesterol in people with normal cholesterol levels. Like other nuts, pecans also contain polyphenols, which act as antioxidants. In one study, people who ate pecans for four weeks as 20% of their daily calorie intake showed improved antioxidant profiles in their blood.
Bottom Line: Pecans contain a variety of beneficial nutrients. They also contain antioxidants and may help lower LDL cholesterol.
Macadamia nuts contain a wide range of nutrients and are a great source of monounsaturated fat.
One ounce contains roughly:
Calories: 200, Total Fat: 21 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Carbs: 4 grams, Fiber: 2.5 grams, Vitamin E: 1% of the RDI, Magnesium: 9% of the RDI
Many of the health benefits of macadamia nuts are related to heart health. This may be due to their high content of monounsaturated. A number of studies have shown that diets rich in macadamia nuts can lower both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in those with high cholesterol. A macadamia-rich diet even produced effects similar to a heart-healthy diet recommended by the American Heart Association. Macadamia nuts may reduce other risk factors for heart disease, including oxidative stress and inflammation.
Bottom Line: Macadamia nuts are very high in monounsaturated fat. This may explain their ability to reduce risk factors for heart disease.
Brazil nuts originate from a tree in the Amazon and are an incredibly rich source of selenium. A one-ounce serving of Brazil nuts contains about:
Calories: 182, Total Fat: 18 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Carbs: 3 grams, Fiber: 2 grams, Vitamin E: 8% of the RDI, Magnesium: 26% of the RDI
Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. Although it is used for a number of functions in the body, you only need to obtain small amounts of it from your diet. A one-ounce serving (about 28 grams) of Brazil nuts will provide you with more than 100% of the RDI for selenium. Selenium deficiency is rare and usually only occurs in certain disease states. For example, one study found that patients undergoing hemodialysis for kidney disease were selenium deficient.
When these patients ate just one Brazil nut a day for three months, their blood selenium levels returned to normal, and the nuts had an antioxidant effect in their blood. Brazil nuts can also reduce cholesterol levels. In addition, they may reduce oxidative stress and improve the function of blood vessels in obese teenagers. Finally, Brazil nuts may reduce inflammation in both healthy people and patients undergoing hemodialysis.
Bottom Line: Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium. They may also help reduce cholesterol levels, oxidative stress and inflammation.
Hazelnuts are very nutritious.
One ounce of hazelnuts contains roughly:
Calories: 176, Total Fat: 9 grams, Protein: 6 grams, Carbs: 6 grams, Fiber: 3.5 grams, Vitamin E: 37% of the RDI, Magnesium: 20% of the RDI
Like many other nuts, hazelnuts appear to have beneficial effects on risk factors for heart disease. One study found that a hazelnut-rich diet reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. It also reduced markers of inflammation and improved blood vessel function. Other studies have shown that hazelnut diets can improve cholesterol levels and increase the amount of vitamin E in the blood.
Bottom Line: Hazelnuts are a good source of many nutrients, such as vitamin E. They may also reduce risk factors for heart disease.
Peanuts are not technically a nut — they’re legumes. However, they are often considered to be nuts and have similar nutrient profiles and health benefits.
One ounce of dry-roasted peanuts contains roughly:
Calories: 176, Total Fat: 17 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Carbs: 5 grams, Fiber: 3 grams, Vitamin E: 21% of the RDI, Magnesium: 11% of the RDI
A study including over 120,000 people found that higher peanut intake was associated with lower death rates. Peanuts may also improve risk factors for heart disease. Interestingly, one study found that there were lower rates of type 2 diabetes in women who ate peanut butter more than five times a week.
However, many peanut butters contain large amounts of added oils and other ingredients. Therefore, it is best to choose peanut butter with the highest peanut content. Similarly, peanuts are usually salted or flavored, which may eliminate their associated health benefits. Instead, try to choose plain, unsalted, unflavored peanuts. Furthermore, asthma and allergic disease rates may even be lower in children of mothers who ate peanuts once or more per week during pregnancy.
Bottom Line: Peanuts are legumes, not nuts. However, they have nutrient profiles that are similar to nuts and may also help reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Take Home Message
Nuts are one of the healthiest snacks you can eat, as they contain a wide range of essential nutrients. However, the beneficial effects of nuts are attributed to nuts that have been minimally processed and have no added ingredients. Many nuts that you buy have huge amounts of salt or added flavors, so it’s best to always buy nuts with nothing else added. When incorporated into a healthy diet consisting of other natural, whole foods, nuts may help reduce risk factors for many chronic diseases.