There is no doubt that nuts are a notoriously healthy snack food. While they once got a bad rap for their high fat content, we’ve gotten over it.
We know nuts are packed with loads of vitamins, some protein, fibre and antioxidants, so they’ve gotten their seal of approval.
There is a downside to most nuts though – phytic acid! In short, phytic acid or phytates bind to minerals that we consume making them difficult for the body to process and utilise properly.
These minerals cannot be absorbed by the body efficiently, basically deeming those good qualities of nuts useless. Over time, a diet high in phytates can lead to severe mineral deficiencies despite a “healthy” diet.
That’s no fun, right?
Some nuts have it easier than others with a low phytic acid content, and those guys will make the top of our ‘healthiest nuts’ list.
The main takeaway is that in order to get the most bang for your buck, nuts should be soaked (and the dehydrated back if you wish), which significantly reduces the amount of phytic acid and allows your body to get in on all that goodness. This is called activating the nuts.
Another factor we need to look at when choosing the healthiest nuts is their fatty acid profile. While most nuts are known for their healthy fats, some are also very high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which can be pro-inflammatory when consumed in excess and in a presence of very little Omega-3 fatty acids.
What this means is that if you don’t love fish and eggs but you eat a bucket of Omega-6 high nuts every day, there is a problem with balance and you’re likely causing your body unnecessary inflammation.
Once again, not all nuts are created equal so let’s break it down and see which are the best for you to consume.
The best of the best
These guys? They’re royalty in the world of nuts. They sit atop the mighty throne, and they can do no harm, unless of course you are allergic to nuts.
In that case, stay away. Otherwise, if you’re not eating ’em, you should be.
These guys are super nutritious through and through, and they’re low in phytic acid which means they are often okay to eat without soaking ahead of time.
They are one of the fattiest nuts, but don’t let that turn you off. Monounsaturated fats make up the bulk of macadamias, and this is the good kind. They are lowest in Omega-6 fatty acids, mentioned above. They include a significant source of both vitamin A and iron and contain flavonoids (antioxidants).
Finally, they are one of the only food sources of palmitoleic acid which is thought to speed up the metabolism.
They are one of the most calorie-dense nuts, and they’re fairly low in protein compared to most varieties. It’s best to eat macadamias and most nuts in moderation.
One of the best things about walnuts? They’re more difficult to overeat than the average nut, making them the perfect snack to have handy.
While nuts like cashews and macadamias are buttery and slightly sweet, walnuts have a much different texture. Beyond their snack compatibility, they have loads of benefits.
Walnuts are particularly healthy for men as they have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. They also contain an amino acid called l-arginine which is great for heart health.
Finally, their high antioxidant levels are incredibly powerful, and this can even help to prevent liver damage.
Nutritionally, they are the second fattiest nut next to macadamias which inherently makes them more filling and lower in carbohydrates. Bonus?
They ended up on our list of the best foods for your brain due to vitamin E and omega-3’s – in fact, they have the most omega-3’s.
BUT, although they do have a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids when compared to other nuts, they are still pretty high in the inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids, so make sure to balance things out with oily fish, seafood, leafy greens and pasture raised chicken eggs.
Pistachios are a great choice if you’re looking for less prep work. Next to macadamias, they contain the least amount of phytic acid, which means you could likely forgo soaking and dehydrating these guys without compromising nutrition.
They contain a pretty complete set of nutrients, so while you don’t get a lot in one place, you do get a variety. Considering how calorie-dense nuts are, pistachios contain just 160 calories per ounce, making them one of the lowest calorie nuts. The saturated fats found in pistachios can contribute to healthier skin. Hooray, good fats!
Pistachios are an amazing source of fibre to get your digestion in the right place. Oh, and men can look forward to a slight aphrodisiac effect and better erectile function. The more you know…
Somewhere in the middle
There’s nothing wrong with these nuts at all, really. While the above are the kings and the queens because they’re outliers in certain categories, these might be the princes and the princesses of the kingdom.
They have their benefits, but they also have a few more downfalls. With a little effort, you can generally work around the negative factors.
Almonds are arguably the most popular nut on our list, if not for the almond milk craze alone. They are a fine choice indeed, with a whopping 6 grams of protein per ounce.
The only other option that compares is pistachios. The downside? They contain 1,221 mg of phytic acid which is the highest of them all. This means it is especially vital to prepare almonds properly by soaking them to remove its anti-nutrients.
Otherwise, their high magnesium content can help to manage blood sugar and blood pressure. Almonds are also one of the most filling nuts due to the combination of protein and fibre, making them a notoriously diet-friendly food.
While almonds have a ton of selling points, it’s best to purchase raw organic almonds and do the roasting yourself in order to fully take advantage of all its nutrients.
Besides undoubtedly being one of the tastiest and most versatile nuts, they are powerhouses in the name of nutrition. They contain a fair amount of magnesium which means healthy bones and muscles.
They also contain a significant amount of copper which helps the body properly absorb iron, making them a great choice for those with anemia. Finally, their zinc content can boost the immune system, so grab a handful next time you feel a cold coming on.
Cashews have loads of culinary uses beyond snacking because of their creamy texture, so they often make a great dairy substitute if you choose to avoid it. Try making cashew cheese, milk or ‘cream.’
Oh, pecans! If you don’t candy ’em or have your fill in a pie, these are a perfectly healthy choice. They’re one of the most fibrous nuts with about 11% of your RDA in just a one ounce serving.
This can lead to better digestion and satiety. Oleic acid, also found in pecans, can actually actually reduce the risk of breast cancer, so these nuts are especially beneficial to women.
Pecans are also a great food for skin, hair and beauty because its specific antioxidant compound is linked to clearer skin and anti-aging properties.
Pecans are one of the nuts highest in healthy fats making them a suitable choice for a filling snack, but as always, should be eaten in moderation. Pecans have a modest amount of phytic acid, but come in low, so they’re okay to eat unsoaked in small amounts.
As long as you’re not dipping your spoon into a tub of Nutella, hazelnuts or filberts get a pass when it comes to the healthiest nuts you can eat.
Their main takeaway is that hazelnuts contain phytochemicals, specifically proanthocyanidin (flavonoids) which are linked to good circulation, a nice boost for the brain and reduced allergy symptoms. They’re high in folate, a B-vitamin, which makes them particularly beneficial for pregnant women and babies.
They come in on middle-ground in terms of phytic acid content, so it’s best to soak these guys. Try making your own hazelnut butter with soaked filberts, some raw cacao and natural sweetener like honey for a healthier version of Nutella.
The good news is they are lower in Omega-6 fatty acids than some of the other guys on our list.
You could go without
Now, these nuts aren’t evil by any means, but some of them aren’t even nuts. We’re talking to YOU, peanuts. While most things are okay in moderation, it’s best to skip these in favour of our top picks if you’re seeking the most nutrient-dense foods.
Let’s clear things up first – peanuts are not a nut. Rather, they are a legume. Off the bat, this isn’t a terrible thing, but it puts them at the bottom of our list. The good news?
They contain many of the other healthful properties of other nuts including monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, copper and B-vitamins.
While it’s desirable to soak peanuts like any other nut or legume, roasting them actually makes them more allergenic. They also contain polyunsaturated fats which can throw our omega-3 to omega-6 ratios out of whack.
Okay, it’s not that you should skip out on Brazil nuts altogether, but you should be especially mindful of portion sizes if these are your chosen snack. While they are a unique food source of selenium, you can get your daily dose with just 1 or 2 nuts.
Therefore, overdoing it puts you at risk of getting way too much of this trace mineral which does indeed put you at risk. They are also an excellent source of B vitamins.
They are low in carbs and high in fat, making them suitable for most diets. Brazil nuts are better eaten as a supplement than a snack. Bad news?
They contain the most phytic acid of all the nuts on our list, and they aren’t known for taking to a soak very well. A few here and here is a good thing but don’t overdo them.
Tubbed/bagged nuts & trail mix
I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation. Let’s take it one step at a time. Even if your trail mix isn’t littered with candy, it’s likely hiding out some not-so-healthy ingredients.
It’s important to read your labels if you’re purchasing pre-packaged nuts. The most common ingredients? Refined oils. Nuts can easily be roasted at home with no oil, or you could use a healthy alternative like avocado oil.
The dried fruits in trail mix are often sweetened with added sugar, but dried fruit is already a concentrated source of natural sugars. Finally, many mixed bags contain peanuts which are a common allergen and (refer to the above passage) not a nut!
Try making your own trail mix with a few of our favorite nuts. Add modest amounts of healthy fats from coconut, or use plain unsweetened cranberries/raisins. You get bonus points if your nuts are soaked, sprouted and dehydrated!
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