The healthiest nuts are packed with a variety of nutrients like unsaturated fat, protein, fiber, and more. “There are many health benefits to nut consumption, including weight management, reducing your risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure, supporting the immune system, and improving cognition,” says Nichole Dandrea-Russert, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook. “I am most excited to see research about the potential benefits of regular nut intake on microbiome health, or gut health,” adds sports dietitian Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.. What’s more, nuts are one of the best foods for inflammation. They are also low carb and contain protein, making them a helpful snack for type-2 diabetics.
But are all nuts created equal? “All nuts are healthy with their balance of unsaturated fat, protein, and fiber, as well as their abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals,” says Dandrea-Russert. “However, depending on your personal desire for certain nutrients or health benefits, some may rank higher than others.” For example, pistachios may be beneficial for plant-based eaters because they contain all nine essential amino acids, classifying them as a complete protein and relatively high-protein snack. Almonds are a particularly good source of vitamin E, which is important for vision, brain, and skin health, while just one or two Brazil nuts can provide your entire daily recommendation for selenium.
Below, you’ll find the nuts that stand out from a nutrition perspective and more information on their specific health benefits. These are our top picks for your next trail mix, baked good, or whenever you’re craving a healthy handful.
Pistachios are a great source of plant-based protein because they are one of the few plants that contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate quantities. This means that they are a complete protein, which some plant-based eaters may find difficult to fulfill in their diets. “Another benefit of pistachios is that they are a good source of melatonin, which promotes healthy sleep. Also, a pistachio’s signature green color comes from a variety of phytochemicals, lending to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Dandrea-Russert. Sprinkle them on roasted veggies for a little crunch, use finely chopped pistachios as “breading” for fish fillets, or add them to yogurt with a drizzle of honey.
Walnuts might just be a good-mood food: Studies have found that walnuts promote cognitive health and mental health because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, though more research is needed. Dandrea-Russert mentioned another study that looked at the mental health of stressed-out students and found that 56 g of walnuts a day (two oz) improved mood as well as gut microbe biodiversity. “Walnuts also provide a significant amount of omega-3—2.5 g in the form of ALA (alpha linoleic acid),” says Jones. She recommends storing them in your refrigerator or freezer, as the omega-3 content may make them oxidize and spoil more easily than some other nuts.
Just one of these super-size nuts, among Jones’ top nut recommendations, can offer more than your daily value for selenium, an essential component that plays a key role in reproduction, thyroid health, and the prevention of cell damage and infections. Just be aware that the tolerable upper intake level of selenium is about 400 mcg and Brazil nuts contain 68–91 mcg per nut. Try not to exceed three nuts per day (because they are so large, 1–2 is plenty satisfying). The nuts contain other beneficial micronutrients like zinc, copper, and magnesium, as well as phytonutrients that act as antioxidants. Enjoy them finely chopped on top of yogurt or blended into a smoothie.
Thanks to their healthy monounsaturated fat content, almonds are a heart-friendly addition to your diet. They’re also a rich source of fiber, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E. Dandrea-Russert suggests eating whole almonds with the skin on: “Research shows that whole almonds may support gut health through their prebiotic properties. Bonus that many of the phytochemicals are housed in the fibrous almond skin.” Almond flour is a delicious, nutty addition to baked goods, sliced and toasted almonds make a prime salad topper, and chopped almonds are great on oatmeal.
Though technically a legume, peanuts are often consumed like nuts and offer many of the same nutritional benefits, like healthy fats and protein. In fact, peanuts boast more protein than most nuts, clocking in at over 7 g per 1-oz serving. (Almonds and pistachios have about 6 g of protein, cashews have about 5 g, and walnuts have 4 g in the same serving size). Enjoy peanuts sprinkled over a curry or stew, blended into energy bites, or add a dollop of peanut butter to your go-to pancake batter for a protein boost.
Cashews contain a bundle of essential minerals like zinc, copper, magnesium, and manganese (key for energy production, immune support and bone health, among other functions). They’re also rich in leucine, the essential amino acid that triggers muscle synthesis. Incorporate them into stir-fries, roast them with a pinch of salt, or boil them with water and spices, then puree for a creamy start to a vegan pasta sauce. With a smooth, buttery texture, they make a tasty alternative for dairy.
It’s no wonder hazelnuts are the perfect partner to chocolate: Mildly sweet and very rich, they practically scream “dessert.” The decadent morsels are also full of antioxidants, which protect the body from oxidative stress (an imbalance between molecules in your body that can lead to various diseases). Eating hazelnuts, especially with the skin on where antioxidant activity is stronger, has been shown to reduce oxidative stress. But they’re not just for a post-dinner treat. Combine them with other nuts, bittersweet chocolate chips, and dried fruit for the ultimate trail mix that’s ideal for on-the-go snacking.
What is the most nutritious way to eat nuts?
Pair nuts with fresh fruit like apples, pears, or berries, recommends Jones: “This helps balance the snack so that in addition to fat, protein, and fiber, you’ll get energy that maintains adequate blood sugar levels along with more volume to enhance feelings of fullness.” On the go? Swap in dried fruit instead for a shelf-stable, portable snack. If you’re looking for a higher-protein snack, pair a handful of nuts with a hard boiled egg along with veggies and hummus, advises Jones.
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