The Best Nuts for Your Health
They're delicious, but not all equally nutritious
Sometimes you feel like a nut — and that’s OK, even if you’re watching your weight. Nuts are notoriously high in calories, but most are equally dense in nutrients.
“Nuts provide healthy fats along with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals,” says Lauren Harris Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYou.com. That’s why they’re especially important in vegan and vegetarian diets.
They’re also easy to keep on hand as protein-rich snacks or to use in recipes. They’ll stay fresh at room temperature for a month and up to six months in the refrigerator if stored in an airtight container.
Not all nuts are created equal, however. Macadamias, for instance, have more omega-3 fats than any other nut, but they’re also higher in calories (around 200 per ounce) and lower in protein. You may want to save them for special recipes. Meanwhile, as long as you pay attention to portions, you can nosh on most other nuts without putting on pounds.
Protein star: peanuts
Peanuts are protein powerhouses. One serving has about 4 grams of protein, more than any other nut. Protein can help stabilize blood sugar and minimize cravings.
Number per 100-calorie serving: 15 to 20
Other benefits: One serving offers a gram and a half of fiber and about 10 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin E. Peanuts also are rich in niacin and riboflavin.
Easy ways to enjoy them: You certainly can snack on roasted peanuts — a baseball game wouldn’t be the same without them. But you also can get the benefits of peanuts from peanut butter. Pincus recommends pairing a tablespoon of natural, no-sugar added peanut butter with fruit for a snack. “All you get from a piece of fruit are carbs,” she explains. “Adding peanut butter will slow digestion and keeping you feeling satisfied longer.”
Pincus also recommends powdered peanut butter, which has been defatted: Reconstitute it with water to make smoothies or sprinkle it over yogurt.
Fiber star: pistachios
Pistachios offer nearly 2 grams of fiber per serving — twice as much as the same amount of broccoli delivers.
Number per 100-calorie serving: 25 to 30
Other benefits: In a serving of pistachios you'll get a little more than 3.5 grams of protein, They’re richer in potassium than bananas and packed with 13 other nutrients as well, including copper, phosphorus, vitamin B6 and thiamin.
Easy ways to enjoy them: Pistachios are delicious sprinkled on ice cream, tossed into a salad or chopped finely to coat medallions of goat cheese. Unshelled pistachios also are a smart snack: Because they’re somewhat labor intensive to crack open and eat, you won’t be able to gobble them down so quickly that you overdo it. Eating slowly gives your brain to time to register that you’re getting full. Tip: When you come across a pistachio with a shell that’s barely open, use the pointy end of a shell from one you’ve already eaten to pry it open.
Iron star: cashews
Cashews have more iron than most other nuts.
Number per 100-calorie serving: Around 10
Other benefits: They're rich in copper and highest in zinc, too. Cashews have a rep for being rich, but in fact they're lower in fat and calories than all other nuts. Not by much, in most cases, but they're hardly a weight watcher's nightmare unless you eat too many (which is easy to do).
Easy ways to enjoy them: (Lightly) salted cashews are a treat to eat out of hand. Toasted and coarsely chopped, cashews also compliment Indian dishes like curries and stews. Just a sprinkle adds lots of crunch and flavor.
Heart star: walnuts
If you heart them, they’ll heart you right back: Like seafood, walnuts are a rich source of omega-3 fats, which can help protect your ticker.
Number per 100-calorie serving: 7 to 8 shelled halves
Other benefits: Walnuts also serve up a gram of fiber, roughly an eighth of the DV for copper, and 5 percent of the DV for magnesium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure healthy.
Easy ways to enjoy them: Because they’re larger than other nuts, rather than snack on them whole it can be more satisfying to use walnuts broken or chopped into pieces. Like all nuts, toasting them will make them more flavorful, so however you use them (sprinkled on oatmeal or yogurt, for example) you’ll get more bang for your buck. (To toast any type of nut, spread them in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and put them in a 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes or so, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden and fragrant.)
Walnuts also make a delicious stand-in for pine nuts in pesto. They're very slightly lower in fat and calories, but considerably less pricey.
Calcium star: almonds
Almonds contain about 5 percent of the DV for calcium, a mineral important to strong bones.
Number per 100-calorie serving: Around 15
Other benefits: Almonds are on par with pistachios in terms of protein. They deliver around 2.5 grams of fiber plus a nice hit of magnesium, as well as phosphorus, iron and the B vitamin folate.
Easy ways to enjoy them. Roasted almonds make a terrific out-of-hand snack. If sodium is an issue for you, have your almonds (or any nuts, for that matter) unsalted or slightly salted. Slivered almonds are a classic addition to steamed green beans, of course, but they can deliver a flavorful crunch to other vegetables, like Brussels sprouts or broccoli.
Folate star: hazelnuts
Hazelnuts, aka filberts, have the highest concentration of the folate (known as folic acid when taken in supplement form) of all the tree nuts.
Number per 100-calorie serving: Around 12
Other benefits: These nuts have more proanthocyanidins (PACs), an antioxidant that's been found to be 20 times more potent than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E, than any other nut, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Hazelnuts' PAC content is 10 times higher when the skins are left on. Hazelnuts also are a prime source of protein and fiber.
Easy ways to enjoy them: Chopped, toasted hazelnuts are a flavorful alternative to walnuts or almonds in salads. When coarsely ground and combined with flour, butter, eggs and salt, hazelnuts transform into a crunchy, nutrient-packed pie crust.
Antioxidant star: pecans
"Pecans rank highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity," write the authors of a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Translation: Pecans can help protect against cell damage and also lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Number per 100-calorie serving: Around 10
Other benefits: Pecans are also fiber-filled — 2.7 grams per serving (10 percent of the DV) — and protein-packed.
Easy ways to enjoy them: You can bake them in a pie, Southern-style, of course, but a kinder-to-your-waistline approach would be to chop them finely with some herbs and press the mixture onto one side of catfish filets before baking them. They're also a great way to add crunch to chicken salad.