Since an estimated 97% of people munch on at least one snack a day, it’s likely you also crave one from time to time.
But instead of reaching for an unhealthy snack or that mushy banana at the bottom of your bag, why not lean for a handful of nuts? Nuts are a delicious snack that both curb cravings and support your health.
In this article, you’ll discover why nuts are healthy, and you’ll find out which varieties are the ideal snack for your needs and goals.
The Proven Health Benefits of Nuts
Nuts are one of the healthiest snacks around. For instance, nuts:
- Are an excellent source of nutrients. These include protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, and more.
- Help you obtain and maintain healthy body weight. That’s because nuts are highly satiating; consuming them tends to pair with an automatic drop in total food and calorie intake.
- Support life expectancy. Research on 118,962 men and women found that daily nut-eaters were 20% less likely to die an early death than people who avoided nuts over a 30-year period.
- Aid blood sugar control. Since nuts are low-carb and don’t raise blood sugar levels much, they’re a fantastic snack, especially for those with type 2 diabetes.
- Lower inflammation markers, such as c-reactive protein and homocysteine. That’s excellent because less inflammation means a reduced risk of chronic disease and organ damage.
- Reduce constipation. Most nuts are jam-packed with fiber, a nutrient that reduces constipation by softening stool and increasing its size.
And remember, these are just six of the benefits nuts have to offer. In other words, if you want to support your health and well-being, it’d be wise to consume nuts on a consistent basis.
But which nut should you eat to optimize your health? You’ll discover all this in the sections below. We’ll look at the five healthiest nuts so you can choose which variety will be the most optimal for your goals and situation.
Almonds are a nutritional superstar because they supply you with a wide range of vitamins and minerals. These include manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, calcium, copper, potassium, iron, zinc, niacin, and more.
The almond is also a particularly excellent source of magnesium. Just one handful of almonds (28 grams) supplies you with 19% of the dietary reference intake (DRI) of magnesium. That places this nut near the top of the list of the world’s best sources of this mineral.
Thanks to the almond’s impressive nutritional profile, it provides many benefits for your heart. Examples of this include lowering LDL cholesterol, preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, and reducing blood pressure.
In addition, the almond is also highly satiating, which means this nut can help you shed pounds and keep them off. For example, one weight loss study found that overweight women lost more weight if they added almonds to their diet.
While all nuts are heart-healthy, the macadamia is especially beneficial for your cardiovascular system. That’s because this Hawaiian classic contains a lot of monounsaturated, palmitoleic, and oleic fatty acids. Besides, the macadamia also:
- Reduces blood markers related to oxidative stress and inflammation, which benefits heart health.
- Aids the relaxation of blood vessels thanks to its high manganese content.
- Lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with elevated levels.
In other words, if you want to support your heart and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, enrich your diet with this creamy and slightly sweet nut.
3. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts stand out from the crowd. That’s not only because of their large size but also because it’s the world’s most abundant food source of selenium, a mineral with powerful antioxidant capabilities.
Just one Brazil nut supplies you with around 140 micrograms of selenium, which is about 254 percent of the recommended intake.
Since it can be hard to get enough selenium through food – which is why an estimated one billion people around the world are selenium-deficient – most of us can benefit from eating the Brazil nut.
However, if you decide to add this nut to your diet, limit your intake to just a few, up to a maximum of 7 spread out over the week. Eating more Brazil nuts than this a week can lead to selenium toxicity.
The walnut is another delicious nut with powerful cardiovascular benefits. In fact, the FDA recently allowed food manufacturers to add the following claim to their product labels:
“Eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Walnuts benefit heart health because: (1) they are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids; (2) they reduce inflammation, total cholesterol, and the “bad” LDL cholesterol; (3) and they improve blood vessel functioning.[8-9]
Besides, walnuts also benefit your brain because they’re rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which both boost brain functioning and help reduce age-related cognitive decline.
If you want to lose weight, pistachios are one of the best nut choices for you. That’s not only because they’re a lower-calorie nut, but also because they come enclosed in a shell.
Because you must unshell pistachios before consumption, you’ll eat them at a reduced speed, which means you’ll be less likely to devour an entire bag thanks to unconscious eating.
One study, for example, found that people who eat shelled pistachios consume, on average, 41% fewer calories than those who eat unshelled pistachios.
Combine that with the fact that pistachios are high in protein and fiber, both of which make this nut highly satiating, and it’s clear why the pistachio is at the top of the list for most weight-loss-friendly nut.
The Top Five Healthy Nut Snacking Tips
To make sure you reap the most health benefits from your nuts, here are your top five healthy snacking tips:
Tip 1: Eat nuts as a replacement for an unhealthy snack. For example, use them as a replacement for potato chips. You’ll then not only enjoy the health benefits of nuts, but you’ll also support your body’s health by keeping unhealthy substances away.
Tip 2: Pre-portion your nuts. Decide in advance how many nuts you’ll eat and leave the rest of the bag out of sight. This prevents you from overeating and thus supports a healthy body weight.
Tip 3: Buy nuts without harmful additives. In other words, read the product label and avoid nuts with added sugars, vegetable oils, and preservatives. Instead, look for variants that only contain nuts.
Tip 4: Each week, aim to consume at least four, 1.5-ounce servings of nuts, as recommended by The American Heart Association, The Mayo Clinic, and other public health authorities.
Tip 5: Don’t roast your nuts at high temperatures because heat can render certain antioxidants useless and cause the oxidation of particular fatty acids. Instead, eat your nuts raw, soaked, or cooked at low temperatures.
1. Bansal, M. (2014). Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. Indian Heart Journal, 66(3), 388-389.
2. Casas, R., Sacanella, E., Urpi-Sarda, M., Chiva-Blanch, G., Ros, E., Martinez-Gonzales, M. A., . . . Estruch, R. (2014). The effects of the mediterranean diet on biomarkers of vascular wall inflammation and plaque vulnerability in subjects with high risk for cardiovascular disease. A randomized trial. PLoS One, 9(6), e100084.
3. Jenkins, D. J., Kendall, C. W., Marchie, A., Parker, T. L., Connelly, P. W., Qian, W., . . . Spiller, G. A. (2002). Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: Blood lipids, oxidized low-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: A randomized, controlled, crossover trial. Circulation, 106(11), 1327-32.
4. Abazarfard, Z., Salehi, M., & Keshavarzi, S. (2014). The effect of almonds on anthropometric measurements and lipid profile in overweight and obese females in a weight reduction program: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 19(5), 457-64.
5. Garg, M. L., Blake, R. J., Wills, R. B., & Clayton, E. H. (2007). Macadamia nut consumption modulates favourably risk factors for coronary artery disease in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Lipids, 42(6), 583-7.
6. Griel, A. E., Cao, Y., Bagshaw, D. D., Cifelli, A. M., Holub, B., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2008). A macadamia nut-rich diet reduces total and LDL-cholesterol in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women. Journal of Nutrition, 138(4), 761-7.
7. Jones, G. D., Droz, B., Greve, P., Gottschalk, P., Poffet, D., McGrath, S. P., & Seneviratne, S. L. (2017). Selenium deficiency risk predicted to increase under future climate change. PNAS, 114(11), 2848-2853.
8. Marta, G., Jun, L., Jordi, S., & Deidre, T. (2018). Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: An updated meta-analysis and systematic review of controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(1), 174-187.
9. Katz, D. L., Davidhi, A., Ma, Y., Kavak, Y., Bifulco, L., & Njike, V. Y. (2012). Effects of Walnuts on Endothelial Function in Overweight Adults with Visceral Obesity: A Randomized, Controlled, Crossover Trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 31(6), 415-423.
10. Honselman, C. S., Painter, J. E., Kennedy-Hagan, K. J., Halvorson, A., Rhodes, K., Brooks, T. L., & Skwir, K. (2011). In-shell pistachio nuts reduce caloric intake compared to shelled nuts. Appetite, 57(2), 414-7.
Natalie Butler, RDN, LD
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