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Healthy Nut Choices

Crack into the differences between almonds, pistachios and more
Written by 
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N.

While nutrition experts once shied away from nuts due to their relatively high fat content, we now know better—the fats in nuts are mainly the heart-healthy unsaturated ones. What’s more, nuts are rich in fiber and pack a healthy dose of protein, which provide key nutrients and help us feel full. But although all nuts pack health benefits, they’re not all created equal. Read on for the facts on some of the most popular nut varieties. And remember: Any nut loses some of its nutritional value when it’s doused in salt.


Almonds

Technically a seed, almonds are a good source of vitamin E, magnesium and manganese, among other nutrients. They also have more calcium than any other tree nut.

Vital Stats: Each one-ounce serving has 163 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber and 14 grams of fat (3.4 grams polyunsaturated, 8.8 grams monounsaturated).

Surprising Fact: Almonds may provide 20 percent fewer calories than currently believed—our bodies can’t absorb all of the fat in them by the time they’re digested, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Try Them: Pulse in a food processor until they become almond meal; use as a breading for chicken cutlets or fish, or as a protein-rich addition to baked goods.


Cashews

These nuts are technically the seed of the cashew apple, which is the fruit of the cashew tree. They’re a good source of oleic acid, a heart-healthy compound that is abundant in avocados and olive oil.

Vital Stats: Each one-ounce serving has 163 calories, 4 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber and 13 grams fat (2.2 grams polyunsaturated, 7.7 grams monounsaturated).

Surprising Fact: Cashews are an excellent source of the mineral copper, which is important for energy production and iron metabolism.

Try Them: Toss a handful in an Asian-inspired veggie stir fry, like our Cashew Chicken Stir-Fry, and serve over brown rice for an easy meal.


Peanuts

While peanuts are technically part of the legume family, nutritionally they’re comparable to nuts and are generally grouped in this category. Eating them will give you a dose of heart-healthy nutrients folate, niacin and vitamin E. 

Vital Stats: Each one-ounce serving has 161 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and 14 grams of fat (4.4 grams polyunsaturated, 6.9 grams monounsaturated).

Surprising Fact: Peanuts are rich in resveratrol, a compound also found in wine that plays a role in preventing heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Try Them: Snack on natural peanut butter with an apple or banana for a fantastically filling snack.


Pistachios

Talk about bang for your snack: You’ll get 49 pistachios in a one-ounce serving—more nuts than you’ll find in a same-size portion of other options. They also pack 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance for vitamin B6, which helps the body convert food into fuel.

Vital Stats: Each one-ounce serving has 159 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 13 grams of fat (3.8 grams polyunsaturated, 6.8 grams monounsaturated).

Surprising Fact: Removing pistachio shells can cause you to consume 22 percent less, yet feel as satisfied as if you’d eaten more, according to research published in the journal Appetite. Here’s why: If you eat unshelled pistachios, you can toss back a few handfulls in no time; the act of removing the shells slows you down so you have a chance to feel satisfied before eating too many.

Try Them: Toss them into a green salad with diced mango.


Walnuts

Packed with disease-fighting antioxidants (more than any other nut, according to a study from the University of Scranton), walnuts are also a good source of minerals magnesium and phosphorous.

Vital Stats: Each one-ounce serving has 190 calories, 4 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 18 grams fat (13 grams polyunsaturated, 2.5 grams monounsaturated).

Surprising Fact: Walnuts are a rare vegetarian source of alpha-linolenic acid, the plant-based source of heart- and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids.

Try Them: Use walnuts in place of pine nuts in your favorite pesto recipe—you’ll add more antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats. 

 

Reference(s) 
Almond Board of California
American Chemical Society
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (August 2012, September 2000)
Appetite (October 2011)
California Walnuts
Current Pharmaceutical Design (2012)
Fatty Acids in Foods and Their Health Implications (CRC Press, 2007)
The George Mateljan Foundation
Linus Pauling Institute
Mayo Clinic
National Peanut Board
Pistachio Health Institute
About the author 
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N., is a New York-based nutrition writer, educator and counselor, and author of the The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian (Sourcebooks).