Eating nuts is an easy way to pack protein, vitamins and minerals into your diet. Whether you’re following a paleo diet, counting points or counting calories, nuts are generally on the “approved” list. Products made from them, such as almond milk or cashew cream, are usually OK too. That’s because they are loaded with fiber and healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
Research shows that people who eat nuts and nut products live longer than those who don’t, so you should definitely incorporate nuts into your diet. Here are some of the top nuts to be nuts about.
The first nut isn’t a nut, but it’s made from one! If you’re one of the 40 million Americans with a lactose intolerance, almond milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk. It contains half the calories of cow’s milk and has no cholesterol, because it’s not an animal product. It’s also a good source of vitamin A (important for your vision, immune system and reproductive health) and vitamin D (which your body needs to promote bone growth and absorb calcium).
Almond milk can be used in smoothies, protein shakes, oatmeal and cereal. It has some advantages over other nondairy milks such as rice milk, which is high in carbohydrates, and soy milk, which has been linked to decreasing fertility and causing problems for people with thyroid disease. Almond milk contains less protein than cow’s milk, so be sure you’re getting protein from another source such as beans, eggs or lean meats.
Read the label before buying almond milk. Some flavored or sweetened almond milks contain added sugar.
Almonds in solid form can add value to a diet, too, because they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Those acids help to lower the LDL (“lousy” cholesterol) and raise the HDL (“healthy” cholesterol), and help prevent irregular heart rhythms that could lead to a heart attack.
For weight loss or maintenance, almonds are a great option:
- They’re high in fiber, helping you feel full longer than snacks that are low in fiber.
- One study found that adults who ate almonds lost more weight over six months than adults who ate more complex carbohydrates.
- Another study found that the amino acid L-arginine, found in almonds, can help you burn more fat and carbohydrates during a workout, leading to weight loss.
- They’re high in protein, a satiating nutrient that keeps hunger pangs at bay, increases your energy and helps repair and build muscle after exercising.
Keep the portion size around 23 nuts so you’re eating 160 calories, which is a snack portion.
Walnuts are good for your health and a balanced diet because they contain fiber, protein, manganese, copper, vitamin E and saturated fat. The minerals found in walnuts can help increase metabolic activity.
Two of the major nutrients found in walnuts are:
- Omega-3s: Walnuts are the only nuts and nut products that have a significantly high amount of omega-3s, which have been shown to lower the risk of coronary heart disease, improve cholesterol and possibly improve treatment for cancer, depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Antioxidants: Walnuts contain the most antioxidants of all nuts, helping protect your cells from being damaged and preventing cancer, premature aging and heart disease.
You can work walnuts into your diet by eating them with breakfast, mixed in with yogurt or oatmeal; adding them to salads or side dishes; or snacking on them alone. They’re high in fat, so it’s important to watch your portions. A single portion of walnuts is approximately a quarter cup; about 12 to 14 walnut halves.
Like other nuts and nut products, pistachios are high in fiber and healthy fats. They are also high in copper, which helps your body absorb iron. Iron is essential because it helps transport oxygen throughout the body and keep your energy up. The copper boost from pistachios can especially help those with anemia.
Another health benefit of pistachios is their aphrodisiac properties for men. One study found that eating 100 grams daily for three weeks helped improve erectile function by 50 percent.
Pistachios contain the least calories of all the nuts listed, so you can eat more per portion. They usually come in shells, which slows down snacking and leads to consuming fewer calories in a sitting. Your portion should be about 49 nuts.
Nut Recipes and Snacks
If you want to try some recipes with nuts, check out these ideas:
- Including almond milk: Apple Berry Smoothie
- Including walnuts: Baked Apple and Nut Oatmeal
- Including almonds: Almond-Honey Power Bar
If you’re ready to take control of your health, why not make an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians and find out how we can help you develop healthier eating habits.