For years, nuts got a bad rap for being high in calories and fat. But now that the days of reduced-fat peanut butter are over, they’re reclaiming their place as a regular part of a healthy diet.
With so many varieties of nuts in the bulk aisle at the grocery store, it can be tricky to decide which to put in your cart. After all, “nuts are not all created equal,” says Gabrielle Mancella, MS, RD, a corporate wellness dietitian with Orlando Health.
ARE NUTS GOOD FOR YOU?
Though all nuts make great additions to a healthy diet (and are great snacking staples in moderation), they’re not all exactly the same, Mancella says. “Each type of nut has unique properties, provides different types of fats and contains different amounts of fiber, protein and carbohydrates.”
While macadamia nuts, for example, contain 220 calories and 23 grams of fat per 1/4-cup serving, peanuts (which, yes, are technically legumes) contain just 150 calories and 15 grams of fat per 1/2-cup serving.
According to Mancella, the nuts that best fit your lifestyle may depend on your individual needs and goals. While low-carb eaters might prioritize pecans (which contain just 1 gram of net carbs per serving), people who need more protein might eat more peanuts (which provide 8 grams of protein per serving).
Since different nuts have very different tastes and textures, don’t sweat it if you just don’t care for one (or any) of the following all-star nuts, Mancella says. You’ll still reap plenty of health benefits from munching on whatever variety of nuts you enjoy.
THE 5 HEALTHIEST TYPES OF NUTS
Though your go-to nut may vary based on your unique health priorities, there are a few nuts considered all-around nutritional rockstars.
Mancella loves walnuts because they check off many nutritional boxes (like carb content, protein and other notable nutrients) people consider when picking out nuts.
“If you’re looking to improve your cholesterol or get those lipid panels back in balance, walnuts can enhance the process of eliminating ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol,” says Mancella. How? Walnuts are particularly rich in polyunsaturated fats, which have been linked to a number of cardiovascular health benefits, she explains.
Plus, walnuts provide a fair amount of protein (5 grams) for few carbs (less than 3 grams) per serving, Mancella adds.
Sweet, creamy cashews don’t often get the credit they deserve. In addition to just being delicious, cashews also have a unique nutritional edge.
“Cashews contain fewer calories per serving than walnuts,” says Mancella. That’s good news if you’re looking for a crunchy snack but keeping an eye on your calories.
Cashews also contain folate (a B vitamin crucial during pregnancy) and are high in hard-to-find copper (which helps our bodies maintain structural proteins collagen and elastin), she adds. One serving of cashews — about 1 ounce — contains about 600 micrograms of copper, almost a 1/3 of the recommended daily intake for adults.
High in fiber and lower in carbs and fats than walnuts and cashews, pistachios are another nut worth incorporating into your diet, Mancella says. Plus, they also provide 6 grams of protein per serving — more than you’ll get out of most nuts!
In addition to their impressive macronutrient profile (carb, fat and protein content), pistachios also contain high amounts of multiple minerals — including magnesium and phosphorus — and the B vitamins thiamin and B6.
Plus, pistachios pack more antioxidants (including lutein and beta-carotene) than pretty much any other nut in the game, according to research published in the Journal of Nutrition. That’s where their vibrant green color comes from!
Almonds might just be the most popular snacking nut — and they’ve also got plenty of nutritional cred to boot.
“Almonds are packed with fiber to support gut health and regularity,” says Mancella. Plus, they also provide vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.
Thanks to almonds’ mild flavor, they’re agreeable to almost any palate. It’s no wonder almond butters and milk alternatives have taken over store shelves.
Though you might associate pecans only with Thanksgiving and pecan pie, these slightly sweet nuts deserve a spot in the pantry year-round.
“Pecans contain monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid, along with phenolic antioxidants, which help reduce the risk of heart disease,” Mancella says. Not to mention, they’re lower in carbs than many other nuts.
To save money on often-pricy pecans, Mancella recommends buying them chopped in the baking aisle. (Pecans not deemed ‘pretty’ enough for the nut aisle often end up there.)
HOW TO EAT MORE NUTS
To reap the most benefits of these nutritious nuts, incorporate as many types as possible — especially walnuts, cashews and pistachios — into your diet.
“Walnut butter is one of my favorite spreads,” says Mancella, who loves pairing it with a sliced apple for an afternoon snack.
She also loves adding pistachios to DIY trail mix and using cashew milk to add creaminess to oatmeal and coffee.
You can load up on other nuts and seeds by adding peanut butter to smoothies, spreading creamy sunflower seed or almond butter on crunchy rice cakes or topping chia pudding, oatmeal or smoothie bowls with slivered almonds, chopped walnuts or chopped pecans.
Since nuts are high in calories (most landing somewhere around 200 calories per serving), be sure to stick to one serving (about a 1/4-cup for most varieties) at a time.