You’ve probably heard a handful of nuts is a heart healthy crunchy snack. Nuts are known for this because they contain cholesterol lowering unsaturated fats and plant sterols, inflammation fighting omega three fatty acids, filling fiber, free radical fighting Vitamin E, and L-arginine (a substance that promotes flexibility and prevents blood clots). Move over apples, a handful of nuts a day keeps the doctor away!
However, you may be concerned about the caloric density in nuts. Yes, it’s true just a small handful (about ¼ cup) can range anywhere from 170-225 calories. Research to date suggests that adding a small number of nuts per day is likely to lead to increased satiety and potentially aid in weight loss. Just 30 grams of nuts per day may also help improve insulin sensitivity which means better blood sugar control and hormonal regulation.
At this point, you may be wondering which types of nuts are best? While nuts overall are beneficial to health, each type of nut has a unique set of health benefits worth knowing about.
Almonds are very popular as a healthy weight loss-friendly snack. Per ounce, they have the highest protein and fiber content compared to any other tree nut. Protein and fiber are known to be satiating and filling, which may mean you will get more satisfied from a handful of almonds than other types of nuts. They also have significantly more calcium, Vitamin E, riboflavin, and niacin.
Brazil nuts are higher in selenium and magnesium compared to other tree nuts. In fact, Brazil nuts are considered the number one food source of selenium in the world. Selenium is essential for mood regulation and thyroid health. Magnesium is essential because it is involved in over 300 metabolic reactions in the body.
Cashew nuts contain 157 calories per ounce making them the lowest calorie nuts. Interestingly, they are also the highest in carbohydrate per ounce as well. Cashews contain the highest amount of zinc and iron per ounce too. Zinc is needed in the diet to support the immune system and aid digestion. Due to its important role in the production of testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen, zinc is crucial for reproductive health. It also supports proper insulin levels in the body. Iron is a vital component of our red blood cells and helps to support energy levels by carrying oxygen in the blood.
Hazelnuts have the highest amount of folate compared to any other tree nut per ounce. Women need healthy levels of folic acid/folate before conceiving to prevent spinal tube defects. Per ounce hazelnuts contain 32 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid. Women of child bearing age should intake 600 mcg per day.
Macadamia nuts are the highest in fat and calories compared to any other tree nut. Interestingly though, they also contain more monounsaturated fat than any other tree nut as well. Monounsaturated fats have been well researched and are known to help decrease cholesterol levels.
Pecans are the most antioxidant rich tree nut. Antioxidants help to fight free radical oxidation in the body which can contribute to many chronic and degenerative conditions.
Pistachios have the highest amount of potassium compared to any other tree nut. Per ounce, they contain 291 mg of potassium. Potassium is essential to fight the effects of high sodium intake in the diet. It helps to maintain proper nerve function, muscle control, and blood pressure levels. Also, pistachios are the only nut to contain significant amounts of carotenoids which help support eye health. They are also highest in Vitamin B6 which supports neurotransmitter production, hormone health, and energy production.
Walnuts contain the most amount of inflammation fighting healthy fatty acids known as omega three fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids support brain health, fight depression, improve heart health, support the adequate development of a fetus, and, like other fats, are filling.
With all this information, what is one to do? You can try mixed nuts to get the benefits all in one shot, OR you can try a new nut every time you run out. Once you get through them all, start again! You’ll never get bored and always have tons of nutrients.