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8 Healthy Nuts For Every Need + How To Eat More Of Them

October 26, 2022
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Whether sprinkled into salads or added to your favorite trail mix, nuts add a significant amount of texture, flavor, and, most importantly, nutritional value to meals and snacks. But which are the healthiest nuts you can eat, and how do their nutritional benefits compare?

Here, functional nutrition experts weigh in on the healthiest nuts for your heart, skin health, brain functioning, and beyond.

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Health benefits of nuts.

There are over 50 types of nuts around the world, and over 20 of those species are edible, each one boasting a unique nutritional profile.

Generally speaking, nuts are a great energy-boosting snack packed with healthy fats and protein, should you find yourself lagging come midafternoon. But beyond their tendency to level up your vitality1, nuts are a nutritionally dense food loaded with macro- and micronutrients, as well as vitamins and minerals.

In conversation with mbg, Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN, explains that nuts are loaded with plant-based forms of heart-healthy fats, including both saturated and unsaturated fats.

Certain nuts, Feller says, also provide high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (an essential fatty acid the human body does not naturally produce but needs to obtain through food sources), antioxidants (a win for your immune system2), and prebiotic fiber to not only help keep you full but to also serve as "nourishment for the beneficial bacteria in the gut." 

But while nuts contain a slew of health benefits, you want to incorporate them into your diet in moderation. The appropriate serving size to reap the aforementioned health benefits will depend on the nut you're eating, but registered dietitian nutritionist Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, says roughly a handful is a good estimation.

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Healthiest nuts.

For the record, unless you're snacking on the sugarcoated, candied varieties, all nuts are inherently healthy.

However, because each nut offers a different set of nutritional values, Feller tells mbg that the nut that is best for you whittles down to your health needs, likes, and dislikes.

"Nuts are a wonderful source of plant-based proteins, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Each contains carrying amounts of these nutrients," Feller says, adding, "[but] I wouldn't say one is more healthy than another. I would rather encourage people to find nuts that they enjoy and incorporate them into their eating pattern." 

Depending on your health goals, the nutritional profile of some nuts may be more beneficial than others. Ahead, experts break down some of the most nutritious nuts and how they can affect your health.

Almonds: Best for skin health

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 165
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Carbs: 6 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Magnesium (19%), Calcium (7%)
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For anyone struggling with skin ailments or traumas, like uneven pigmentation, Michalczyk says you might want to add a handful of almonds3 to your snacking rotation.

"[Almonds] are the nut with the most vitamin E, an antioxidant which supports skin health by protecting skin cells from the damaging effects of free radicals caused by pollution, UV rays, cigarette smoke, and other factors," says Michalczyk, and there's research to back this up.

For example, a 2019 study4 published in the journal Phytother Research found wrinkle severity reduced when a randomized control trial of 50 postmenopausal women consume 20% of their daily calories in almonds for 16 weeks.

Peanuts: Best for stress relief

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 161
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Carbs: 5 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Magnesium (12%), Iron (7%), Vitamin B6 (5%)
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Aside from being delicious, research shows that peanuts5 (technically not nuts but rather the edible seeds of a legume) contain a slew of health benefits.

For instance, according to a 2022 randomized clinical trial and meta-analysis6, consuming 25 grams (a little under an ounce) of peanuts every day could help reduce cholesterol levels, thanks to the superfood's healthy amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

And, in addition to its cardiac benefits, research suggests that the bioactive compounds in peanuts can help reduce stress levels, as well as improve memory.

Cashews: Best for high blood pressure

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 157
  • Fat: 12 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Carbs: 9 g
  • Fiber: < 1 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Magnesium (20%), Iron (10%), Vitamin B6 (5%)
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Cashews7 have a creamy decadence that comes through whether you're snacking on them raw or in butter form. And if you think these morsels are rich in flavor, they're equally rich in nutrients.

Aside from their being loaded with magnesium, which supports muscle relaxation, nerve function, and energy production, plus iron, which is great for the immune system, studies8 show that cashews can help reduce cholesterol levels and therefore keep blood pressure levels stable as well.

Pistachios: Best complete plant-based protein source

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 159
  • Fat: 13 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Carbs: 8 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Vitamin B6 (25%), Magnesium (8%), Iron (6%)

Pistachios are crowd-pleasers, with their smooth texture and sweet flavor profile, but they also come highly recommended by experts.

This is because pistachios are a "complete" plant-based protein source, meaning they have "the full amino acid profile and supply 6 g of plant-based protein9 per serving," Feller explains.

Pistachios are also a good source of fiber and a great source of healthy fats, making them a satiating snack if you're on the go or in need of a quick energy boost.

Walnuts: Best for brain health

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 18 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Carbs: 4 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Magnesium (11%), Vitamin B6 (10%)

It's kind of ironic that walnuts10 are shaped like a brain because these nuts are stellar for your noggin. A 202011 review of both human and animal data published in the journal Nutrients noted that walnuts' strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may play a role in protecting the brain against cognitive decline.

Walnuts are also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, which professor and director of the master in nutrition and dietetics program at Virginia Tech Enette Larson-Meyer, Ph.D., R.D., previously told mbg is associated with helping prevent cognitive decline12.

Pecans: Best for heart health

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 196
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Carbs: 4 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Magnesium (8%), Vitamin B6 (5%)

Owner of Nutrition con Sabor Krista Linares, R.D., previously told mbg that compared to other nuts, pecans13 are especially high in antioxidants and that a diet high in antioxidants "can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, as well as help prevent and repair cellular damage that can lead to signs of aging."

One 2018 study14 published in the journal Nutrients also found that a pecan-rich diet helped lower the risk of cardiometabolic disease in healthy middle-aged and older adults who were overweight or obese.

Macadamia nuts: Best for lowering cholesterol

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 200
  • Fat: 22 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Carbs: 4 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Manganese (35%), Copper (20%), Thiamin (15%), Magnesium (8%), Selenium (6%), Vitamin B6 (6%)

While macadamia nuts15 are high in fat, don't let that deter you from picking up a pack to snack on. Roughly 80% of the fat in macadamia nuts is monounsaturated fat, a healthy fat that's known to lower cholesterol.

Macadamia nuts are also the nut with the lowest amount of carbohydrates, which Ella Davar, R.D., CDN, CHC, says, makes it "a preferable snack for those trying to achieve ketosis and following a keto diet."

Brazil nuts: Best for thyroid health

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • Calories: 186
  • Fat: 19 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Carbs: 4 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Key micronutrients with their daily percentage values: Magnesium (26%), Calcium (4%)

Even if you've never snacked on a Brazil nut16, we can almost guarantee you could pick one out of a lineup. These spherical pods are big, measuring anywhere from 3 to 7 inches in diameter. So while a 1-ounce serving of, say, pistachios translates to about 30 nuts, a 1-ounce serving of Brazil nuts is maybe six medium-sized nuts.

But beyond their size, Brazil nuts' claim to fame is their selenium content. Selenium is an essential trace element that encourages hormone balance, specifically that of the thyroid17. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services18 recommends the average adult consume 55 micrograms of selenium per day; one Brazil nut contains 90 micrograms, which is why Katie Lemons, the functional medicine expert behind the Twist of Lemons Instagram account, previously told mbg she recommends eating one to two Brazil nuts every day as a whole food selenium supplement.

How to add nuts to your diet.

Of course, you could just grab a handful of nuts and snack on them raw, but with so many fun and delicious ways to utilize them in various meals, why not experiment? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make your own nut butter: One of this writer's favorite ways to eat nuts is via nut butter (I love almond and peanut butter). There are plenty of prepackaged jars readily available at your local grocery store, but more often than not, these batches have been sweetened with sugars and contain other unnecessary additives (here's looking at you processed oils). An alternative is to buy your favorite nut in bulk, pop them into a blender, and pulse until creamy for a healthier nut butter! You can even add vanilla extract, cinnamon, or honey to make the recipe your own and to your liking.
  • Use them as a breading: Rather than using store-bought bread crumbs to coat your chicken and fish, Michalczyk tells mbg she uses finely chopped nuts to enhance her meal's macro- and micronutrients.
  • Turn pistachios into pesto: If you love pesto, Keller has a recipe for you. She uses pistachios to make a quick and easy pesto by blending 2 cups of kale, ½ cup of basil leaves, 2 tbsp of pistachios, 2 cloves of garlic, and ½ cup of olive oil in a food processor. Enjoy the plant-based condiment for chicken, fish, panini, eggs, and more.
  • Add them to salads: If you're not looking to spend extra time in the kitchen, a simple way to add nuts to your diet is to add them to your salads, a tactic Davar says is one of her go-to's. "I love using nuts as a delicious topping for my salads; toasted, they add a nice texture pop of a crunch," she tells mbg.
  • Make DIY nut milk: Whether you're fully plant-based, cutting back on dairy, or just curious to try an alternative to cow's milk, nut milks are an excellent substitution. They're also easy to make at home! From macadamia nut milk to almond, cashew, walnut, and even hazelnut milk, there are plenty of easy recipes around the web that require minimal ingredients (typically filtered water and the nut of your choice).
  • Sneak them into your favorite treats: Those with a sweet tooth will want to pay special attention to this tip: Nuts can easily be incorporated into your favorite baked goods, from cookies to pie crusts, and even no-bake recipes, like these no-bake nut butter cookie bites, relayed to mbg by an integrative and functional registered dietitian, Alexandra D'Elia, R.D., CDN, RDN.

The takeaway.

The truth is, all nuts are healthy but in different ways and for different reasons. Review the nutritional values and special perks listed above for some inspiration on how to utilize different types of nuts in your diet daily, for head-to-toe health.