Good things can definitely come in small packages. Nature’s gifts include a bounty of healthy foods that boost immunity and nourish the body. Chief among these are nuts! Enjoyed for thousands of years as a source of sustenance and energy, nuts have earned recognition as an essential part of a healthy diet, with numerous scientific studies confirming a wide range of health benefits derived from consuming them.
Nuts are treasure troves of nutrition loaded with important vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, protein, fiber, and a variety of phytonutrients. Although high in calories, nuts can help us live longer and eat fewer calories in a given day.
Consuming nuts in moderation may provide protection from cardiovascular disease, gallstones, diabetes, inflammation, and even cancer. Numerous medical studies continue to confirm the beneficial impacts nuts have on health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes the link between moderate nut consumption and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and the American Heart Association includes nuts as a key component of a healthy diet.
Here, we’ve gathered information about the health properties of some of the best nutrition-boosting nuts.
Almonds – At 160 calories per ounce, almonds are one of the lowest-calorie nuts, making them a guilt-free satiating snack. High in copper, fiber, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and protein, almonds are well-known for their health-promoting effects on women’s reproductive systems, as well as for their ability to support healthy digestion due to their prebiotic properties. As noted by David Grotto, RD, LDN, in The Best Things You Can Eat, no fewer than nine clinical studies show almonds can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Additional research demonstrates benefits for a variety of health issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, weight management, digestion, and immunity.
Brazil nuts – Packed with nutrients, including copper, fiber, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamine, Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium—containing over 700 percent of the daily recommended amount in just one ounce! Consuming just three Brazil nuts daily can meet your daily minimum requirement for selenium, a key mineral for immunity, as well as prostate and breast health. If that’s not enough, Brazil nuts are also one of the few non-animal foods providing a complete protein.
Hazelnuts – High in vitamins and minerals, such as copper, fiber, magnesium, manganese, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E, hazelnuts contain more folate than most nuts. A key nutrient during pregnancy, folate also helps prevent anemia. Hazelnut’s high levels of monounsaturated fat can significantly lower cholesterol levels, and with the most anti-inflammatory proanthocyanidin content of any nut, hazelnuts help protect the heart and reduce the risk of blood clots and urinary tract infections.
Pecans – The only tree nut native to North America, pecans comprise a thousand varieties, all of them chock-full of some 19 vitamins and minerals including iron, potassium, magnesium, beta-carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid. High in antioxidants, pecans served as a staple food source for Native Americans, who valued the nuts for their delicious, buttery taste and its energy-giving power. A couple handfuls deliver 718 calories, 9.7 grams of protein, 2.4 grams of fiber, and 74 grams of healthy fat in addition to pecans’ nutritional benefits. The linolenic and stearic acids, as well as the monounsaturated oil, in pecans may contribute to their reputation as an artery defender, with one study finding that eating a handful of pecans daily may help lower LDL cholesterol. Other research noted pecans for their role in weight management and boosting metabolism.
Walnuts – Walnuts boast polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than the monounsaturated fatty acids found in other nuts. Rich in alpha linolenic acid, the omega-3 fat that research suggests may help heart arrhythmias, walnuts are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. A 2006 Spanish study found that walnuts reduced inflammation and oxidation in the arteries as effectively as olive oil. In addition to copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and vitamin E, walnuts have been found to contain more antioxidants than any other nut. Research shows evidence of walnuts’ benefits for heart health, diabetes, cancer, cognition, aging, and metabolic syndrome.
While some varieties (like macadamia nuts) contain a higher fat content, any type of raw nut delivers a healthy amount of nutrients when enjoyed in moderation.
When it comes to food allergies, nuts are the most common food to illicit a reaction. While peanuts are the best known food allergens, about 25 to 40 percent of people allergic to peanuts are also allergic to tree nuts, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. Those with nut allergies are advised to avoid all nuts in all forms, as reactions can range from a rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Shopping & Storage
Thankfully, obtaining high-quality nuts requires just a simple visit to your local health food store or market. While you can buy whole nuts and crack them yourself, it’s far easier to buy shelled nuts. Choose raw, unadulterated versions, as nature intended them to be eaten. Watch out for nuts bathed in sweet and salty glazes, as well as sodium-packed spicy, smoked, or barbecued varieties.
Buying nuts from the bulk barrels at your local market or health food store is your best bet in terms of freshness and price. While germs can be spread by shoppers scooping nuts with their hands and bins may not be as sanitary as packaged nuts, bulk bins are excellent when they are kept clean, airtight, and free from debris. Look for the gravity dispensers that keep customers from sticking their hands inside—these are surely the safest, most sanitary way to buy nuts in bulk.
Be sure to store your nuts in an airtight container and keep it in a cool, dry place. To keep them fresh longer, store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Most nuts will stay fresh for at least six months or longer. However, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios may go rancid within one to four months.
Did You Know?
Peanuts aren’t an actual nut. They are, instead, classified as a legume like peas or beans.