Only a few years ago, nuts meant a bag of salted peanuts and concerns about potential allergies. Other nuts such as Brazil, pecan and pistachio were seen as “gourmet”.
Now, nuts of many varieties are readily available. In addition, many are made into oils, spreads, milks and other products.
So what should we know about their nutritional value? And are all nut-based products the same?
What are the health benefits of nuts?
Research has shown that people who regularly eat nuts have a lower chance of developing heart disease or having a heart attack later in life. The properties of nuts related to a lower number of cardiac events are:
- high levels of phytosterols (type of ‘good’ cholesterol)
- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content.
Nuts contain other healthy nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, folate, vitamin K, soluble and insoluble fibre, copper, zinc and selenium.
They are also a great source of protein, particularly for those who are vegetarian and vegan. Nuts are roughly 20% protein, delivering a large dose of protein in comparison to their size.
Due to the high fat and protein content of nuts they are considered an energy-dense food. Unlike other energy-dense foods, such as fried food, nuts are also nutrient dense, making them a great snack or addition to meals.
It is recommended you have a small handful or about 25g of nuts each day to receive the nutrient benefits you need from them. Nuts have been found to keep people full for longer than other common snacks.
Health benefits of individual nuts
Nuts all have different ‘star’ nutrients so having a variety is key:
- almonds – highest fibre content of all tree nuts, promoting satiety, and they are high in vitamin E
- peanuts – high in protein and fibre
- Brazil nuts – high in selenium, which has antioxidant properties
- walnuts – good source of omega-3, providing fuel for your brain
- pistachio – high in carotenoids associated with prevention of cancer and eye health
Ways to eat nuts
There are a variety of ways to get nuts into the diet, but are all forms the same?
Raw (in their whole form)
This is a great way to enjoy nuts for their fibre content and for promoting satiety. Go for plain nuts rather than those that have been covered in salt and other flavourings. Roasted nuts have also undergone some processing.
This is a good way to add protein and energy to the diet and a great spread instead of butter and jam. Just remember that they are also energy dense so are best used in moderation.
This can be used as a milk alternative for flavour. Technically, nut milks are not ‘milk’ and their protein content is about five times lower than dairy milk. Their taste can be quite distinctive, but they can serve as an alternative for those who are avoiding dairy. Note, however, their nutrient content is quite different, and varies depending on their source, from traditional milk.
- Heart UK- The Cholesterol Charity. Nuts. June 2014 – [cited 6 July 2018]. Available from: https://heartuk.org.uk/files/uploads/documents/huk_fs_f01_nuts.pdf
- Dietitians of Canada. Eating Guidelines for Increasing Your Energy and Protein Intake. 2014. PEN Database.
- RGM de Souza, RM Schincaglia, GD Pimentel, JF Mota. Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 December; 9(12): 1311.