As a healthy snack, nuts have gotten a bad reputation in the past. Nuts are relatively high in calories, about 73-90% of which are from fat. However, the fat in nuts is mostly the healthy kind, called monounsaturated fats, which can help with heart health, reduce inflammation in the body and promote weight loss.
“Nuts are full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and have a good crunch, which makes them very satisfying,” says Kirsti Troyer, a registered dietitian at Samaritan Weight Management Institute in Corvallis. “Eating a satisfying snack is important because if you don’t feel full you’ll just wind up eating more later.”
One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who incorporated nuts into their diet ate less from other sources during the day. That’s part of the reason why even though nuts are high in fat and calories, they are still a good choice for snacking.
In addition to being filling, nuts contain a variety of nutrients and powerful antioxidants.
Walnuts, for example, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which protect the heart. Brazil nuts are high in selenium, which support thyroid function and the immune system. Hazelnuts have the highest amount of folate of any tree nut, which promotes healthy cell growth, and are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Almonds are high in the antioxidant vitamin E, which boosts the immune system.
While some nuts are higher in certain nutrients than others, researchers have found that, as a whole, all nuts can help promote good health.
Large-scale epidemiological studies have found that people who ate five servings of nuts a week had a substantially decreased risk of coronary artery disease and death. A number of smaller studies have pointed to nuts as beneficial for heart health, preventative for diabetes, cancer and neurogenerative diseases, and helpful for weight loss or maintenance.
“The nutrients in nuts have a protective effect on the heart and can decrease inflammation, which is implicated in a number of diseases,” said Troyer. “Each nut contains different nutrients, so the greater the variety you eat, the better.”
Try: Almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts or peanuts plain or mixed with other nuts and seeds in homemade trail mix. Chopped fine and roasted they make a crunchy topping for salad, yogurt or oatmeal, and a flavorful addition to steamed vegetables.
Seeds Are Good for You Too
Seeds are often lumped together with nuts when discussing health benefits, with good reason. Seeds contain a surprising amount of nutrients including essential fatty acids like omega-3, protein, fiber and a range of healthy antioxidants.
Hemp seeds, for example, have about 9g of protein in one serving. Chia seeds and flaxseeds have a little more than 6g of protein, 9g of fiber and contain about twice the omega-3 fatty acids of walnuts.
Seeds are a good choice for those with allergies to tree nuts or peanuts. You can even find allergen-friendly sunflower butter to use in place of peanut butter – just avoid products with added sugar on the ingredient list.
Both raw and roasted seeds are beneficial, however flaxseeds need to be ground in order for your body to absorb the nutrients. You can do this yourself in a coffee grinder, or buy it already ground.
Try: Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia or hemp seeds sprinkled on salad. Chia and flaxseed blend well in smoothies or mixed in oatmeal. Dash some seeds on top of your morning avocado toast.
Nuts & Seeds While Watching Your Weight
For people who are watching what they eat, the high fat content is a common concern Troyer hears when she mentions nuts and seeds.
“They are actually a really good afternoon snack if you are trying to manage your weight,” says Troyer. “Especially if you’re eating them instead of something with empty calories like chips or crackers.”
Troyer recommends sticking to one serving a day to keep fat and calories in a healthy range. Choose raw or dry roasted varieties, but skip the ones that are salted or candied. A 1 oz serving, or about ¼ cup, is about the size of a handful. If you’re eating nut butter, a serving is 2 tablespoons.
To make the most of your snack, select nuts and seeds with the highest protein. This will help you feel full longer so you can make it to your next meal without getting cranky or grazing on less nutritious options. Try one of the choices listed below. Each 1 oz serving has about 160 calories.
Protein-packed nuts and seeds:
- Hemp Seeds – 1 oz has 9g of protein.
- Pumpkin Seeds – 1 oz has 8.5g of protein.
- Peanuts (dry roasted) or peanut butter – 1 oz has 6.9g of protein.
- Almonds or Almond Butter – 1 oz has 6g of protein.
- Pistachios – 1 oz has 6g of protein.
- Hazelnuts – 1 oz has 4.2g of protein.
“Nuts and seeds are such a versatile food you can add them to just about anything,” said Troyer. “But don’t go crazy with it, portion control is still important.
Filberts the Local Oregon Hero
Hazelnuts are grown in abundance locally, which makes it easy to buy fresh crop nuts each fall. Look for them at farm stores and farmers markets starting at the end of September. Farm stores will often sell nuts in the shell, which helps keep them fresh longer. If you aren’t up for cracking all your hazelnuts by hand, ask if the seller can machine crack the nuts for you for easier separating at home. Once you have your nuts shelled, keep them in a bag in the freezer and bring out small portions at a time to keep them fresh and tasty.