Since ancient times, humans all around the world have included nuts in their everyday diets. As a well-known healthy food, many people nowadays attempt to add them into their meals and snacks on a regular basis. That’s a good thing! Research tells us tree nuts can help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
All nuts provide heart-healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, each individual nut provides a slightly different profile of nutrients. You may choose to eat one nut over another depending on your particular taste, goals, and lifestyle.
To help you out, here’s Nutrition Techniques’ guide to nuts:
Serving Size: 23 nuts
Highlights: high in protein (6g), fiber (3.5g), and calcium (75mg).
Potential Drawbacks: none! Eat em up!
Best Choice For: plant-based protein or calcium (shout out to my vegans and vegetarians), and those needing a boost of fiber.
Serving Size: 6 nuts
Highlights: highest in magnesium (107mg), and highest in selenium (840mcg), which is necessary for thyroid and immune function.
Potential Drawbacks: highest in saturated fat (4.3g), small serving size makes for sad snacking.
Best Choice For: anyone with low Mg, but not necessarily good for those with high LDL cholesterol.
Serving Size: 18 nuts
Highlights: lowest in calories (157 calories) lowest in fat (12.4g), and highest in zinc (1.6mg) and iron (1.9g).
Potential Drawbacks: highest in carbohydrate (8.6g), low in fiber (0.9g).
Best Choice For: anyone wanting a lower-calorie nut to snack on, warding off a cold, or in need of a plant-based iron source.
Serving Size: 20 nuts
Highlights: higher in potassium (193mg), and highest in Folate (32mcg).
Potential Drawbacks: moderate protein (4.2g) and fiber (2.7g).
Best Choice For: women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. For this population, adequate Folate is essential.
Serving Size: 12 nuts
Highlights: highest in healthy monounsaturated fat (16.7g).
Potential Drawbacks: highest in calories (204 calories), highest in total fat (21.5g), and lowest in protein (2.2g).
Best Choice For: occasional use or for baking.
Serving Size: 28 nuts
Highlights: highest in protein (7g) and high in potassium (200mg).
Potential Drawbacks: Technically it’s not a nut (it’s a legume! Shhhh).
Best Choice For: plant-based protein! Also, they’re generally quite cheap.
Serving Size: 20 halves
Highlights: sweet taste and soft texture.
Potential Drawbacks: one of the lowest in nutrients, protein, and fiber.
Best Choice For: adding a nutty flavor to cooking and thanksgiving pie.
Serving Size: 49 nuts
Highlights: more nuts per serving, which makes for satisfying snacking, lower in calories (159 calories), higher in protein (5.8g), highest in potassium (291mg), and highest in vitamin B6 (0.5mg).
Potential Drawbacks: shelling can be a hassle!
Best Choice For: long-lasting snack, people with low potassium, or risk of insufficient B6 (looking at you, again, vegetarians/vegans!)
Serving Size: 12-14 halves
Highlights: highest in polyunsaturated fat (13.4g), including Omega-3 fatty acids.
Potential Drawbacks: lower in fiber (1.9g).
Best Choice For: preventing heart disease.
You can’t go wrong with any of these nut choices. Once again, they ALL provide healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals in some amount or another. Which kind you choose is up to you! A word of warning: nuts are a concentrated source of energy from fat. Make sure your portion sizes are accurate, or you could risk adding unnecessary calories.
Now – nuts make amazing stand-alone snacks, but there are a TON of ways to use them in recipes for cooking and baking too. Try a few of these nutty ideas next time you have them handy.
Oatmeal - Almonds, walnuts, or pecans go perfectly into oatmeal. Mix them in prior to cooking for a softer nut, or add them afterward if you like to keep the crunch.
Cashew Rice Salad – mix together1 cup of cooked rice, 1 cup of chopped celery, ¼ cup of cashews, and 2 tbsp mayo. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, and dill to taste. Enjoy for lunch!
Spinach Salad – toss fresh spinach with a handful of pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and a crumble of feta. Drizzle with your favorite olive oil vinaigrette.
Hazelnut Crusted Fish – mix together 2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tbsp honey. Drizzle over 4 fish fillets of choice (I prefer salmon!). Finely chop ½ cup of hazelnuts and mix with ¼ cup of breadcrumbs. Mix in enough olive oil to make the mixture stick together. Top the fish with hazelnut mixture and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until fully cooked.
Nut Butters – nut butters (including peanut butter) are great ways to incorporate nuts into your diet. The nutrient profiles of each of the butters will generally reflect what’s found in the nut itself. Looking for fiber? Choose almond butter. Want lower calories but a bit more iron? Choose cashew nut butter. Follow the guide above to lead you toward the right nut butter for you.
Nutrition Technique: each type of nut is good for you in its own special way. Incorporating them into your diet is easy and tasty, and can help prevent the onset of chronic disease. Be careful not to overdo it – they’re naturally concentrated sources of calories. Toss a few nuts in your next snack or recipe and enjoy their natural benefits!
Amy Jones, MS, RDN, LD