What are the healthiest nuts to eat?

Most nuts are generally healthy, but some are better for heart health than others.
What are the healthiest nuts to eat

Nuts are one of the most powerful foods you can incorporate into your diet: high in fiber, protein and healthy fats, these superfoods are nutrient-dense. But what are the healthiest nuts to eat? Even eating a few nuts every day has been shown to lower the risk of dying from heart disease, according to a recent study. Nuts are the seeds (akin to the offspring) of trees, so a tree pours its resources into its seeds (the nuts) to give them the best chance of survival. The result: little packages loaded with healthy macronutrients (fats and protein) and minimal carbohydrates. All varieties of nuts are beneficial, but some offer unique nutrients and flavors. In this article, we dive into why nuts are considered a superfood, and we also share our favorite varieties. 

What’s so great about nuts?

Just a handful of nuts packs a lot of nutritional power:

  • Nuts are good for your heart. Nuts are full of healthy unsaturated fats, which are essential for vitamin absorption, cell functioning and are a key source of energy during exercise. Both types of unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, have been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Many nuts are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in the healthy regulation of heart beat rhythms, which reduces your risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack).

  • Nuts are full of antioxidants. Most nuts are packed with the antioxidant vitamin E, a nutrient known to prevent plaque development in arteries. Plaque buildup can lead to chest pain, cardiovascular disease and myocardial infarction. Vitamin E also captures free radicals, which are damaged cells that can trigger diseases and lead to a whole host of issues.

  • Nuts are nutrient-dense and keep you feeling full.  All nuts contain fiber and protein, which help keep you feel full for longer. We’ve written extensively about the benefits of fiber, which include a healthier immune system and gut microbiome. Fiber is also linked to better prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. Nuts also contain protein, specifically an amino acid l-arginine that keeps arteries healthy and reduces the risk of blood clots. All nuts contain magnesium and most contain iron and B-vitamins, although the amounts vary. Most nuts also contain plant sterols that have additional health benefits, including lowering cholesterol levels.

  • Nuts are easy to add to a meal and are travel-friendly. Because nuts are so nutrient-dense, you only need a handful of nuts each day to benefit from them. For example, you can simply sprinkle a few chopped nuts on top of any meal for a bit of crunch. And nuts are easy to drop in a bag without taking up much space. 

The top 6 healthiest nuts to eat and why

Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in folate, vitamin E and have the highest concentration of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is excellent for heart health and is a precursor to the fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish, making them one of the healthiest nuts to eat. These large, meaty nuts can taste bitter because they are high in tannins, so they balance best in sweet dishes. While they’re more calorically dense than others on this list, the higher fat content contains no saturated fats and can keep you fuller for longer. And although walnuts are higher in carbs than most nuts, the insulin response these nuts trigger tends to be quite low. Studies have shown that consuming a few walnuts a day can help lower LDL cholesterol levels and that consuming moderate amounts of ALAs may help protect against cognitive decline as well as cardiovascular disease

Almonds

Almonds are flavorful, widely available and are high in fiber, making them a great healthy nut to eat. Almond skin is high in flavonoids, nutrients known to promote heart health. Almonds have been shown to help lower cholesterol and inflammation in the body. One serving of almonds provides almost 60% of your daily vitamin E needs. Vitamin E plays a crucial role in eye, skin and blood health. Studies have indicated that consuming ¼ cup (about 1 ounce) of almonds each day can help you maintain healthy weight — usually because almonds replace an unhealthy, sugary snack. 

Peanuts

While they’re technically a legume and not a nut, we’re including them in this list because they share the health properties of other nuts. Peanuts contain B vitamins, including biotin, that help control blood glucose levels and support healthy nails and hair. Peanuts are also rich in fiber and protein and make a great addition to trail mix, as peanut butter or on their own. 

Pistachios

Pistachios are one of the highest-fiber nuts you can consume, with nearly 4 grams of fiber for every 200 calories, helping them land on our healthiest nuts list. Pistachios also rank near the top in terms of antioxidant concentration, boasting lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health. Pistachios have also been proven to lower cholesterol levels due to their healthy fats and other nutrient properties. Many nutritionists recommend eating shelled pistachios as a snack because deshelling takes time and leads you to eat more slowly and consume fewer nuts. 

Pine Nuts

Pine nuts are high in fiber and an excellent source of vitamins K and E, magnesium and iron. Essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body, iron is a mineral that vegetarians must focus on consuming, in order to obtain the recommended daily intake, since iron is found mostly in animal foods (such as beef). 

Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are packed with the minerals selenium, copper, zinc and magnesium — essential for the human body to function, making them one of the healthiest nuts. Selenium is critical for thyroid health and copper helps regulate blood pressure. Zinc and selenium both support a healthy immune system. One serving of Brazil nuts contains, approximately, your entire recommended daily intake of magnesium. However, eating Brazil nuts is tricky because one serving is just two or three nuts; overconsumption of them represents a high-calorie experience, so moderation is key (for weight management).  

Source: USDA Food Data Central

How to incorporate healthy nuts into your diet

It’s important to remember that you can overdo it when eating nuts. An entire daily serving is ¼ cup, or about 30 grams, which equates to a tiny handful — or, in the case of Brazil nuts, just a couple of nuts. 

Here are some ways to include nuts in your meals:

  • Add as a topping on salads, yogurt, oatmeal, vegetables.

  • Grind into a flour (e.g., almond flour) and substitute for white flour, or use as a coating for cooking (such as fish or chicken).

  • Try switching up how you buy or cook your nuts: toasted, roasted, raw, blanched — all offer different flavors while maintaining nutrient-density (as long as they’re not burned). 

When buying nuts:

  • Consider buying “roasted” nuts for a satisfying crunch — and if you’re going to go with salted, do a lightly salted version.

  • Avoid nuts coated with sugar or added oils (such as palm, peanut or vegetable oil), since you would be increasing the caloric load of an already calorically-dense food. Be sure to check the label and only buy nuts that contain just the nut.

  • To ensure you are purchasing the freshest product, make sure to buy:
    • Nuts that are in-season
    • Nuts that are less than six months old 
    • Nuts that are in a vacuum-sealed package
    • Whole and unprocessed nuts 

Key takeaways

So, what are the healthiest nuts to eat? The type of nut you choose will not make a significant nutritional difference, especially if you already have an overall healthy meal pattern. All nuts are healthy — especially for your cardiovascular system, although there are some nuts that offer a higher nutrient punch than others, especially for those who are at risk for or already managing type 2 diabetes. However, it’s best to consume only about ¼ cup of nuts each day to avoid unhealthy weight gain. 

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