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Which Nut is the Best Nut?

Updated: Feb 21



nuts

Will the most nutritious nut please stand up?


If you ask this question to a room full of nuts (envision a room filled with a variety of nuts like hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, pistachios and pecans), you'll see each one stand up, showcasing their unique individuality.


It's a question I hear a lot — which nut is the healthiest nut to eat?


The short answer is, they're all fabulous and eating a variety of nuts will give you a variety of nutritional benefits!

They each come with their very own unique qualities. Generally speaking, they're all excellent sources of plant-based protein, healthy fats, dietary fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients that act like antioxidants. However, they each may have just one nutrient that outshines the rest of the nut family. Keep reading to see who takes the awards for highest in protein, best in brain-supporting fats, most likely to support immune function, the best nut for boosting mood, and the nut most likely to call kale its cousin.


Health benefits in a nutshell

nuts

Due to their abundance and wide variety of nutrients, there are many health benefits to nut consumption, including weight management, reducing risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing risk of type 2 diabetes, supporting the immune system, boosting mood, and improving cognition


Nuts are rich sources of unsaturated fat, plant-based protein, and fiber. Because of their balanced macronutrient content, nuts are beneficial on their own, but especially beneficial when they replace saturated fat from animal products in the diet, like full fat milk, cheese, meat and eggs. Since they're an excellent source of protein, they can certainly take the place of animal protein in your diet, along with legumes, seeds, whole grains, and tofu (to name a few!).


The fiber in nuts is essential for digestion and regularity, as well as supporting a healthy gut microbiome. Consuming sufficient fiber is linked to less inflammation and inflammatory-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain types of cancer


What’s more, nuts are rich in phytochemicals, especially polyphenols and phytosterols, both of which have been shown to promote cardiovascular health. Polyphenols are phytonutrients in nuts that act like antioxidant powerhouses, fighting oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals and reducing inflammation that are associated with a variety of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. In fact, one study found that walnuts are stronger in fighting inflammation than fish. The same compounds found in pecans have been found to reduce cholesterol by 26-33%.


Finally, nuts are abundant in essential vitamins, like B vitamins and vitamin E, as well as essential minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium. Vitamins and minerals are essential to all functions in the body, supporting immune function, metabolism, sleep, and skin health, to name a few.


cashews

Some of the top benefits of nuts include:


  • Heart health: Due to their healthy fat composition as well as their fiber, vitamin, mineral and phytochemical compounds, nuts have been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and helping with weight management

  • Brain health: Walnuts show promise in reducing the risk of cognitive decline due to their high omega 3 fatty acid and polyphenol content, both of which fight oxidative stress and inflammation, two conditions that can lead to cognitive decline.

  • Diabetes prevention: Consuming just one ounce of nuts per day, five times or more per week, has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

  • Weight management: Due to their fiber, protein, and healthy fat content, nuts can help with satiety, keeping you full longer, which can help with weight management.

  • Sleep health: Dietary fiber and plant protein have been found to promote good sleep. Plus nuts are rich in magnesium, which has been shown to help the body relax in preparation for sleep. Pistachios may especially be beneficial since they are also a source of melatonin, the hormone that signals your body when it's time to sleep.

  • Immune health: Tree nuts, like almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and cashews, are also good sources of the essential amino acid, arginine, which is important in supporting immune function. (Of note, arginine also leads to nitric oxide production, which helps to dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure.) Other essential nutrients in nuts, like fiber, unsaturated fat, selenium, and polyphenols, also play a role in supporting immune function. 

  • Athletic/protein needs: Nuts are an excellent source of plant-based protein for everyone (excluding those who are allergic). Athletes who are looking to build muscle mass may want to include peanuts, pistachios, almonds, and cashews as these nuts are rich in leucine, the essential amino acid that triggers muscle synthesis. 


Do nuts cause weight gain?

almonds

Consuming nuts is associated with a lower incidence of inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. Even though nuts are calorically dense, they are also nutrient dense (meaning they contain boatloads of nutrients!). Despite their high calorie content, research shows that consuming nuts daily can help with weight management and overall health. Therefore, those at risk for or with lifestyle diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease, may want to consider incorporating 1-2 ounces of nuts daily as a part of a health plant-based or plant-forward diet. 


Will the healthiest nut please stand up?

pistachios

All nuts are healthy with their balance of unsaturated fat, protein and fiber, as well as their abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. However, depending on your personal desire for certain nutrients or health benefits, some may rank higher than others. 


Below you'll find a list of nuts and their individual attributes that make them shine so brightly that they each deserve a spot on your plate.


Almonds

almonds

While almonds are pretty well known for their cardiovascular benefits due to their healthy monounsaturated fat content (64%), they’re also a rich source of fiber (3.5 grams per ounce), calcium (76 mg per ounce), and magnesium (also 76 mg per ounce). What’s more, just one ounce of almonds provides 50% of the daily recommendation for vitamin E, which is important for vision, brain, and skin health. Their nutrient composition makes them an excellent addition to any diet, especially for those looking to support cardiovascular health. Research also shows that whole almonds with the skin may support gut health through their prebiotic properties. Bonus that many of the phytochemicals are housed in the fibrous almond skin — even more reason to consume the whole almond! Take almonds with you as a travel or work snack or add them to morning oatmeal for a protein, fiber, and healthy fat boost. Almond meal can also be used in baked goods. 


In a nutshell: Almonds have heart-healthy fats, skin-loving vitamin E, and gut-loving fiber.


Brazil nuts

brazil nuts

Just one or two Brazil nuts can provide you with more than your daily recommendation for selenium, an essential mineral important for immune health, metabolism, and fighting inflammation with its antioxidant properties. Each nut contains approximately 175% of the RDA for selenium (the selenium content depends on where it’s grown) as well as other essential micronutrients like zinc, copper, and magnesium. Brazil nuts contain several phytonutrients that act as antioxidants, including selenium, vitamin E, and phytonutrients or phenols like gallic acid and ellagic acid, all of which have been shown to reduce inflammation and protect your body from oxidative stress. Since their selenium content is high and the tolerable upper limit recommendation for selenium is 400 micrograms daily, limit Brazil nuts to no more than three nuts per day. Chop one or two finely and sprinkle on top of plant-based yogurt or a smoothie bowl. Or simply add one or two nuts to your morning smoothie.


In a nutshell: Brazil nuts contain all of your selenium needs in just one nut! Selenium supports thyroid and immune function.


Cashews

cashews

If you're entering the world of plant-based eating, be ready to make cashews your best friend. Due to their high healthy fat content (12 grams per ounce!) and low fiber content (1 gram per ounce), they make the creamiest, dreamiest plant-based cheese, spread, milk, and substitute for dairy cream in everything from savory soups to sweet desserts. Where they lack in fiber, they make up for in minerals as they're an excellent source of magnesium, copper, and manganese and a good source of zinc, iron, and selenium. These minerals are essential for metabolism, bone health, and thyroid health, to name a few. Enjoy cashews as a snack or make a savory cashew cream, a sweet cashew cream, or cashew cheese for some delightful plant-based goodness.


In a nutshell: From a culinary perspective, cashews are the dream ingredient for substituting dairy cream in recipes because they replace the saturated fat, hormones and antibiotics found in dairy cream with their mineral-rich, antibiotic and hormone free goodness.


Hazelnuts

hazelnuts

Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, can be enjoyed solo, roasted, or ground into a delectable paste. They're particularly high in phytochemicals that act like antioxidants, scavenging free radicals and fighting inflammation. Like almonds, hazelnuts are also an excellent source of vitamin E, which is good for the cardiovascular, skin, and immune systems. Tip: skip roasting them and enjoy the raw with the skin to get all of the antioxidant benefits.


In a nutshell: Hazelnuts are chock-full of phytonutrients that act like antioxidants, fighting inflammation and supporting heart, skin, and immune health.


Macadamia nuts

Despite their high fat content, macadamia nuts have been shown to help with weight loss, lower cholesterol, and benefit gut health. Just one ounce of macadamia nuts has 23 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber. Because of their high monounsaturated fat content, as well as their protein (2 grams per ounce) and fiber content, they may improve risk factors for diabetes. What's more, similar to almonds, a portion of macadamia nuts' calories may not be absorbed since some of the fat is housed in the fiber, which is excreted during digestion. Enjoy macadamia nuts in trail mix or use them to make a decadent chocolate cheesecake.


In a nutshell: Macadamia nuts are high in fat, but it's mostly monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to promote heart health and reduce inflammation, especially when replacing saturated fat found in dairy products.


Pecans

pecans

Of all the nuts, pecans champion the antioxidant game. Their ORAC value (the scale that measures antioxidant content) is 1.3 x more than walnuts, 4 x more than almonds, and 13 x more than Brazil nuts! All nuts are fabulous, but, if you're looking for total antioxidant power to fight inflammation, make pecans your BFF. With their fiber, protein, and healthy unsaturated fat content, they've also been shown to balance blood sugar, support brain health, and reduce cholesterol levels (like other nuts!). Maple Bourbon Candied Pecans is a super tasty way to enjoy them!


In a nutshell: Pecans have more phytonutrients than any other nut! Include them throughout the week for a boost in antioxidants.


Peanuts

peanuts

Botanically speaking, peanuts are a legume, but often classified as a nut due to their nutrient composition, which is similar to nuts. Of all the nuts, peanuts are highest in protein. Enjoy peanuts as a snack or ground into the infamous peanut butter. One of the most common and tasty ways to enjoy peanuts is in its creamy form as peanut butter along with an apple or celery for a healthy snack or as the classic pb&j for an easy on-the-go lunch. Make the pb&j healthy and high fiber by using whole grain bread, preserves made with whole fruit and fruit juice sweetened, and peanut butter that is clear of additives like palm oil and sugar. Uplevel stir fries with some crunch, extra flavor and nutritional value by adding a handful of peanuts!


In a nutshell: Peanuts are the highest protein "nut!" Peanut butter also makes the best classic pb&J sandwiches.


Pistachios

pistachios

While all plants have all essential amino acids, some essential amino acids may fall a bit short in plant based foods. Consuming a wide variety of plant based foods ensures you’ll meet essential amino acid needs. However, pistachios contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate quantities, classifying them as a complete protein. Another benefit of pistachios is that they are a good source of melatonin, which promotes healthy sleep. Also, pistachio’s signature green color comes from a variety of phytochemicals, including catechins, lutein, zeaxanthin, chlorophyll, and anthocyanins, lending to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Pistachios make a great sustainable afternoon snack along with a piece of fruit or try tossing them in a grain bowl for a little crunch and mild nutty flavor. Personally, I love adding pistachios to savory meals like stir fries, salads, and grain bowls. 


In a nutshell: Pistachios are a complete protein, a source of melatonin, and chock-full of antioxidants. Fun fact — the green pigment in pistachios is the same green pigment found in kale!


Walnuts

walnuts

Walnuts have been shown to promote cognitive health and mood due to several components found in them, including omega 3 fatty acids (2.57 grams per ounce), fiber, phytochemicals and essential vitamins and minerals. One study looked at the mental health of students who were stressed due to their academic workload. They found that 56 grams of walnuts a day (2 ounces) improved mental health measures as well as gut microbe biodiversity. While more research is needed, this is a similar outcome to other studies looking at walnuts and mood. Like other nuts, they’ve also been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The benefits may be due to the synergistic effects of the nutrients in walnuts and their ability to protect against oxidative stress and inflammation associated with these diseases. One of my favorite ways to incorporate walnuts is by adding them to a food processor with lentils and savory spices to make a “meaty” taco filling. Or, if you’re looking for an easy way to incorporate them daily onto your plate, toss them into a salad for a buttery, crunchy texture and nutty flavor to compliment your leafy greens.


In a nutshell: Walnuts are showing great promise in supporting cognition, boosting mood, and fostering gut health.


Is there any reason to avoid nuts?

Unless someone has a nut allergy, nuts can be included daily as a part of a healthy meal plan. While nuts are nutrient-dense, they are also calorically dense. For those wishing to gain weight in a healthy way, nuts can be a wonderful nutrient- and calorically-dense healthy addition to their diet to help with weight gain. However, if an individual would like to lose weight, they may want to limit nuts to 1–2 ounces a day as a part of a healthy meal plan. This is still beneficial as 1–2 ounces a day is the amount that has shown health benefits in many research studies. 


Individuals that have challenges chewing may have difficulty chewing nuts, but can blend nuts into a nut butter to enjoy all of the health benefits nuts offer.


How to enjoy nuts

  • Consider including a handful of nuts as a part of your sustainable healthy snacking plan. They can be enjoyed alongside a piece of fruit or sprinkled on top of plant-based yogurt with berries for a gut-, brain-, and heart-loving snack. 

  • Since each nut provides its own unique nutritional profile, consider making a granola or trail mix that includes 3-5 nut varieties to ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients. 

  • Make a food processor your best friend and blend nuts into nut butter. You can use just one nut or make a nut butter with 2–3 different nut varieties. One of my personal favorite combinations is walnuts and Brazil nuts for a tasty duo nut butter. 

  • From a nutritional standpoint, I always recommend that individuals layer plant-based foods onto their meals to boost nutrition, texture and flavor. For example, when you’re enjoying a salad or grain bowl, consider adding herbs, spices, and nuts for adding nutritional value and flavor, plus a fun crunch through the nuts. 

  • One condiment I love making and keeping in the fridge to boost the flavor and nutritional value of many dishes is Dukkah seasoning, which is a blend of almonds, pecans and spices. It’s delicious and perfect sprinkled on top of avocado toast, salads, or rice and bean dishes. 

  • Nuts can be blended into savory dishes too like these Walnut and Lentil Stuffed Mushrooms or Walnut Pesto Angel Hair Pasta. Because of nuts’ rich fat content they do a great job at delivering other flavors and improving the mouthfeel of many dishes.  

  • Finally, nuts like cashews make the most delicious plant-based cheese or can serve as a creamy base for plant-based sour cream or a sweet cashew cream for your favorite muffins. 


One last note: Since nuts are rich in healthy fats, make sure to store them in the refrigerator to prevent them from going rancid. They will keep in the refrigerator for six months. Or, if you’re purchasing them in bulk, consider freezing them and bringing them to the refrigerator as needed. Storing them in glass mason jars keeps them safe from absorbing other odors in the fridge while also keeping them organized!


mason jars



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