Nuts are great for snacking, but are nuts good for you? Should you eat them raw or roasted? That’s what you’ll find out here.
Nuts are a good source of healthy fats and protein. If you are following a vegan, raw or ketogenic diet, then eating nuts can be an important source of nutrients.
However, they can be calorie dense, and it’s easy to eat too many of them. Some of them are better than others in terms of protein, fat and calorie balance.
What Are The Healthiest Nuts To Eat?
Here’s a quick overview of some of the healthiest that you should consider including in your diet.
Almonds are a form of tree nut that is rich in protein and fat. They are quite dense – a 28g serving of almonds contains around 160 calories, and 6g of protein. They are also a source of magnesium and Vitamin E. Studies show that almonds can help to reduce your levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. LDL is the “bad” type of cholesterol, so that’s good news.
Because almonds are rich in protein and fat, eating them with a meal can help to reduce the post-meal blood sugar surge that sometimes occurs in diabetics. Indeed, almonds have been found to help people with diabetes in other ways, such as reducing inflammation. If you’re looking for a tasty, healthy snack to replace a carb-rich snack, then almonds could be the answer.
Pistachios are a popular nut that is rich in proteins and fiber. A 28g serving contains 156 calories, including 3g of fiber and 6g of protein. Pistachios can also help to improve your cholesterol balance. Eating two servings of pistachios per day could help to increase the level of HDL cholesterol. If you are going to try this, then do remember that nuts are calorie dense. Two servings of pistachios equates to more calories than an averaged sized chocolate bar. So, don’t just ‘add nuts to your diet’. Make sure that you’re swapping an unhealthy snack out for a healthy one.
Cashews are a tree nut that happens to be rich in magnesium. A 28g serving contains one-fifth of your RDA for a day. In addition, they are comparatively low in fat, containing just 5g per serving. Like many other nuts, they can be helpful for improving the cholesterol balance in the blood, by raising the levels of HDL cholesterol. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of evidence to show that they have any impact on blood sugar or metabolic syndrome in those with diabetes. However, since they are high protein, and low carb, this means that they can still be a better choice than a carb-rich snack for those who are struggling with diabetes.
Macadamias are more calorie dense than some other types of nut, containing almost 200 calories per serving. They are still good to eat, though, because they contain monounsaturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in monounsaturated fats because it is good for heart health, and can help to lower blood cholesterol. There is evidence to show that macadamias can have other positive impacts on your skin, heart health and metabolic health. Their calorie density means that they are best eaten in moderation.
Brazil nuts are something that most people think of as being a chocolate coated treat, but they can be eaten in their un-modified form and they are still incredibly tasty too. They contain around 182 calories for a 28g serving, and that serving will provide you with more than 100% of your recommended daily allowance of selenium. In addition, Brazil nuts can act as an antioxidant, and improve the function of your blood vessels. They are high in selenium, which helps to combat or prevent cancer.
When I think of pecans, the first thing that comes to mind is pecan pie, or those sugar filled pecan rolls they sell at truck stops or convenience stores. But do you ever wonder are pecans healthy? The answer is yes as they contain 19 vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, in an ounce serving they have 196 calories, 3g protein, they are low in carbs at 4g , 3g fiber and 20g fat.
They are high in fat, however, it’s the good kind of fat that is full of healthy monounsaturated fats. Pecans also contain anti-inflammatory properties and reduces risk of heart disease. The best part is, they are low in sugar and good to eat for those who have diabetes.
Walnuts are one of the best nuts to eat. They are high in good fat, low in carbs and is a good source of protein. When you remove walnuts from the shell try to reserve the skin that comes off with it as it has some great nutrients that you won’t otherwise get. It contains phenolic acids, flavonoids and tannins.
When you eat walnuts you’ll get a healthy amount of Omega-3 fats, copper, manganese, Vitamin E and biotin. Like other tree nuts mentioned above, they are great for heart health, cancer prevention and to use in weight loss. Walnuts are a great substitute for meat for vegans. Just sprout them (see below) then place them in a food processor with spices and herbs.
Why Vegans Need Nuts
Vegans eat a diet that is plant based and that avoids meat and dairy products. This means that they need to be mindful of how much protein and calcium they are getting, as well as the levels of certain other micro-nutrients. Non-vegans get protein and calcium from meat and dairy products. It is perfectly possible to get enough of those nutrients from a plant based diet, though. Almonds, pistachios and Brazil nuts are rich in calcium. They are even rich in iron, and if you are eating a diet that is rich in vitamin C from fruits and vegetables then your body will be able to absorb the iron from the nuts quite efficiently too.
One recent study, conducted in 2015 at Oxford University, found that people who consume at least 10g of nuts per day had a lower risk of dying from a number of health conditions than those who did not eat them at all. The study followed 120,000 people over a 30 year period, which is an impressive sample size and duration and gives weight to the data.
How You Eat Nuts Matters
The evidence is out there to show that eating nuts is good for you. Indeed, even peanuts are good for you in moderation, although perhaps not up there with the healthiest of them. How you eat them matters, though. While research shows that eating them are good, eating peanut butter does not convey the same benefits. It is thought that the addition of salt and trans fatty acids in the production of most commercial peanut butter brands is harmful enough to offset any benefits from the nuts themselves.
To get the best protective effect, people should aim to eat a variety of nuts. There is little sense in chasing one special ‘super nut’ to the exclusion of all others. We would not make that mistake with fruits or vegetables. It is accepted that we need to eat apples, and oranges, and pears. We should also look to eat lots of different kinds of nuts to enjoy the selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, fiber, iron, and healthy fats that they contain.
It’s wise to eat both peanuts and tree nuts, because they do have similar health benefits, and peanuts are quite affordable too. If you aren’t a fan of just eating them as-is then there are many ways that you can get them into your diet. You can make nut butter at home using a blender for example. Homemade nut butters are a better alternative to store bought ones since you know that they don’t have any added trans fats or too much added salt. Alternatively, you can enjoy nut-based milks as an alternative to cow’s milk or oat milks. Almond milk, in particular, has a pleasing taste.
Roasted vs Raw
When you are shopping for nuts, try to find ones that are raw whenever possible. They will stay fresh for longer. To learn more about the health benefits of eating raw, see my post on the Raw Vegan Diet.
Roasted nuts tend to go rancid more quickly than fresh ones, so if you do want to buy roasted ones, look for ones that were roasted quite recently. Avoid ones sold at chain stores because they were probably roasted weeks ago and have simply been sat in a container waiting to be sold. While they won’t be unsafe, the flavor will not be as good as with fresh ones.
In addition, cooking products changes their nutritional value because it breaks down some of the proteins. The way that they are changed in the roasting process is not something that has been extensively researched, but there are some experts that believe that roasting nuts will may make some of the nutrients more bio-available. That’s a good thing if you are able to get freshly roasted ones, but if you get ones that are already going off then you are simply wasting all those nutrients and consuming little more than fat.
Sprout Nuts Before Eating
We just talked about how healthy nuts are for you, but if your body is unable to absorb the nutrients they contain then you cannot reap much of the benefits. Nuts and seeds contain phytic acid which is an enzyme inhibitor that will keep you from absorbing nutrients and can cause stomach irritability. In order to break this down you must sprout raw nuts first. This is a very simple process to do.
- Buy raw nuts and place them in a bowl.
- Cover nuts with warm water.
- Add salt (Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan )
- Let nuts soak overnight.
After sprouting nuts they are ready for flavor (see recipe below), dehydrating (keep dehydrator at no more than 105°F to keep them raw), make into milk or use in recipes.
Nuts Nutrition Infographic
The infographic below will show you the different types of nuts and their nutritional value. Included are vitamins and minerals they contain, plus macronutrients. It will help you determine which nuts are healthiest for you. I personally, find the best nuts for my diet (ketogenic) are Brazil, Pecans and Macadamia nuts, in that order.
Like I mentioned earlier, they are high in calories so be sure to only eat an ounce serving. That’s really all you need because as they are high in fat they will satisfy your hunger quite quickly.
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Of course, all of this advice applies only if you do not have a nut allergy. Around one in 50 children and one in 200 adults suffers from a nut allergy. While for some, the allergy is mild, for others it can result in life-threatening anaphylactic shock. If you have a nut allergy then your doctor will likely have advised you which ones are safe and which to avoid. Some people are allergic to peanuts only, while others are allergic to a wider range of them.
It is possible to outgrow nut allergies, even if you had a severe allergic reaction to nuts as a child. According to one recent study, almost one in ten people who were allergic to tree nuts as a child outgrew the allergy as an adult. The likelihood of outgrowing a tree nut allergy was greater if the sufferer had also outgrown a peanut allergy.
That’s not to say that it is a good idea to just go out there and start trying to eat them if you have been found to be allergic to them. Healthy nuts are hardly healthy if they cause you to have a serious allergic reaction. However, the results of that study show that there is hope for some people to outgrow their condition. It may be worth asking your doctor about allergy test options.
Why Dogs Shouldn’t Eat Nuts
While humans can gain great benefits from eating nuts, not so much dogs. Please keep them away from your furry friends.
Moderate Your Nut Intake
We listed some of the most healthy nuts above, and noted that a serving size is just a small handful. Many people make the mistake of eating the entire bag, or of assuming that all of them are healthy just because they are from a similar family. Of the list above, macadamias are the ones that are the easiest to over-indulge in. Especially if they are covered in chocolate. Yum!
Another nut to watch out for is the pine nut. While they’re generally safe to eat, and not even particularly calorie dense, there are some people that experience an unusual reaction to them. After eating pine nuts, everything else starts to taste bitter and rancid. Even eating something sweet afterwards doesn’t help.
If you experience this reaction, it can be quite frustrating, because it lasts for a long time after eating them. Even brushing your teeth will not help. That’s because the condition is caused by the them interfering with your taste buds, and it could afflict you until your taste buds regenerate, which takes 10 to 14 days.
Pine nut syndrome, as the condition is called, can strike people who have previously never had an adverse reaction to pine nuts. It is more likely to happen in people who consume cheaper imported pine nuts, and there was a spate of reports relating to these a couple of years ago. The good news is that it’s thought that the condition is not dangerous in the long term. It is not nice, however, to find food completely unpalatable for up to two weeks at a time!
In general, it would be unfair to call any specific type of nut particularly unhealthy, but some of them are less wholesome than others. Roasted and salted peanuts, for example, are a rather moreish food that could be unhealthy in that they’ll take you above the recommended daily salt intake. If you’re vegan you’re unlikely to want to eat chocolate coated peanuts or yogurt coated nuts. That’s good, because they’re a little too much into ‘junk food’ territory for the average person. The coatings add a lot of calories and a lot of sugar to what would otherwise be a relatively healthy snack.
Nuts Are Expensive But Worth It
Tree nuts, in general, are expensive. Peanuts are cheaper because they are technically a legume, not a nut. They are expensive because some of them only grow in specific climates, some are hard to harvest, and others, such as cashews, require processing to make them safe to eat. Many of them are grown in California, and require a lot of water. There has been an ongoing drought in California, which is impacting harvests.
It’s because of these reasons that they are so expensive per pound. They are tasty, nutritious, a convenient snack and a good source of calories though, so it is worth adding them to your diet if you can. When you factor the price in, the small serving size starts to feel more like a blessing, and less like a restriction!
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Here is one of the best recipes that is not only delicious, but healthy as well.
Raw Sweet and Spicy Nuts
1 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts
1 Cup Raw Almonds
1 Cup Raw Pumpkins Seeds
1 Cup Raw Cashews
1/4 Cup Lakanto Maple Syrup
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Coco Aminos
1 Tsp Ginger, minced
1 Tsp Garlic, grated
1/4 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
Soak all the nuts and pumpkin seeds in purified water overnight.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.
Place soaked (sprouted) nuts in a large bowl and pour mixture over them and coat.
Spread nuts, single layer on dehydrator trays, and dehydrate at 105°F (This temperature will keep them in raw form, preserving all nutrients.) for 12 to 24 hours or until fully dry.
Best place to buy nuts online
To make sure I get the best organic raw nuts possible, I order them from Thrive Market. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the best product possible. To learn more as to why I love them, read my post on Thrive Market.