What makes dietitians and nutritionists so crazy about nuts and why should they be eaten daily?
Nuts have long provided nutrient-dense energy to populations around the world (1,2). They are excellent sources of protein, fiber, essential fatty acids, and key vitamins and minerals!
In addition to adding important nutritional components, nuts can aid in weight management and play a key role in balanced and healthy diets. Recent studies show that frequent nut consumption may have health–protective benefits and positive impacts on body weight by lowering the risk of obesity and weight gain when consumed as part of a low-calorie diet (4, 5). These benefits can be attributed to increased feelings of fullness from the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats provided by nuts as compared to high–carbohydrate snacks (6).
What types of nuts are best?
Although different nut types are similar in caloric content, their nutrient compositions vary. Let’s look at some of the more common nuts found in foods and on supermarket shelves.
Almonds provide an array of nutrients, such as vitamin E, manganese, fiber, monounsaturated fat, and protein. A number of studies have shown that diets rich in almonds can improve cholesterol levels by reducing LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
Research has shown that consuming walnuts daily helps reduce caloric intake while also providing valuable nutrients such as polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber (7).
Cashews are native to Brazil and are now popular in multiple culinary dishes around the world. Unlike other nuts, cashews are always roasted or steamed before sale because they contain urushiol, the irritating substance in poison ivy, which can cause skin reactions when eaten raw. Cashews are rich in protein, monounsaturated fats, copper, magnesium, and zinc. They are also an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins E and K.
Peanuts are native to Central and South America and, despite common misconception, are legume seeds and not nuts. They are high in B vitamins, vitamin E, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, fiber, and phytonutrients such as resveratrol (3). Compared to other nuts, peanuts are affordable and provide similar health benefits closely associated with their high protein and phytonutrient contents.
Choosing the right nuts
Incorporating nuts as a healthful snack or ingredient into your diet can provide many beneficial nutrients in addition to lots of flavor. Like other snacks though, it’s important to make sure you read the product labels and look for simple ingredient lists.
Many companies add sugars or salt to enhance the naturally nutty flavor. For example, many nut butters contain corn syrup, and many nuts are roasted in oil and salt, making them much less healthy as snacks. If you do your research, nuts can be a nutritious addition to your diet without adding empty calories.
Salas-Salvadó, J., P. Casas-Agustench, and A. Salas-Huetos. “Cultural and historical aspects of Mediterranean nuts with emphasis on their attributed healthy and nutritional properties.” Nutrition, metabolism and cardiovascular diseases 21 (2011): S1-S6.
M L Dreher, C V Maher, and P Kearney. “The traditional and emerging role of nuts in healthful diets.” Nutrition reviews 54.8 (1996): 241-245.
Bonku, Rabiatu, and Jianmei Yu. “Health aspects of peanuts as an outcome of its chemical composition.” Food Science and Human Wellness 9.1 (2020): 21-30.
Sabate, Joan, and Yen Ang. “Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 89.5 (2009): 1643S-1648S.
Bes‐Rastrollo, Maira, et al. “Nut consumption and weight gain in a Mediterranean cohort: The SUN study.” Obesity 15.1 (2007): 107-107.
Fischer, S., and M. Glei. “Potential health benefits of nuts.” Ernaehrungs Umschau international 60.12 (2013): 206-215.
De Souza, Rávila Graziany Machado, et al. “Nuts and human health outcomes: A systematic review.” Nutrients 9.12 (2017): 1311.