I often get the question, “what are the best types of nuts to eat”? After hearing this question several times, I figured it was time to create a post comparing the nutritional composition of common nuts.
Overall nuts are a very healthy food to include in your diet. They are high in minerals, heart healthy unsaturated oils, vitamin E and fiber. The only reason we can’t go nuts (pun intended) when eating them is because they are one of the richest types foods we can eat. Oil makes up the largest percentage of a nut’s composition. Some nuts contain 50% or more oil. For this reason, we need to keep our serving size in check.
Lets take a deeper look into the nutritional composition of common nuts…
Nutritional Comparison of Common Nuts
Serving size = 1/4 cup, or one small handful (you should be able to close your fist). All nuts listed are in raw, unsalted form. Source: USDA National Nutrient Database For Standard Reference
|Calories||Protein (g)||Total Fat (g)||Carb (g)||Fiber (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||*MUFA (g)||**PUFA (g)||Omega-3's (g)||Plant Sterols (mg)|
*MUFA: monounsaturated fatty acids. The common MUFA is oleic acid. MUFA’s can help lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. They can help increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
**PUFA: polyunsaturated fatty acids. PUFA’s are a group of fatty acids that include the omega-6 (LA, ARA, CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA). PUFAs can also help reduce total cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. The omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.
Plant Sterols: naturally occurring substances that help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. They work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in your small intestine.
Roasted vs Raw Nuts
Nuts are at a greater risk of becoming rancid due to their high unsaturated oil content. Rancid is a term used to describe oil that has gone bad. Rancidity occurs when oils are exposed to prolonged light, heat and moisture. You will know when an oil or nut has gone bad because it will have cardboard, paint-like aromas. Just as with any other spoiled food, it is not healthy to consume rancid oils. You are probably wondering by now what this has to do with roasted nuts.
Well…roasted nuts will go rancid more quickly than raw nuts because they have already been treated with heat. That is really the only main difference between the two types.
A good fresh nut will have an opaque, off-white interior. Any darkening or translucency is a sign that rancidity is developing. If you are buying roasted nuts, it may be in your best interest to buy them in a dark, sealed container (will slow rancidity). On the other-hand I have purchased roasted nuts in a clear bag from Trader Joe’s and they have been just fine. If it will take you awhile to finish the nuts then you may want to consider the darker container or transfer them to a dark container when you get home from the store.
It is best to store nuts in a dark, air-tight container. Nuts high in PUFAs (walnuts, brazil nuts) will go rancid more quickly and are best stored in the refrigerator. If you buy nuts in bulk, it is best to keep them in a cool place. Remember, the more you expose nuts to light, heat and moisture, the faster they will go bad. Nuts also freeze very well due to their low water content.
Roasting Nuts at Home
If you choose to purchase raw nuts you always have the option of roasting them on demand (I choose to do this). There are two methods you can use to roast or toast nuts: 1) stove-top or 2) oven. If you are using the stove-top, all you need to do is put the desired amount of nuts in a skillet over medium heat. Keep moving the nuts around in the pan so they toast evenly. The process should take about 5-10 minutes. If you want to roast them in the oven, first preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put nuts on to a baking sheet into the oven for about 10-12 minutes. Stir the nuts a few times during the process. In both cases the nuts are done when they are lightly browned. I tend to use the skillet method.
Keep in mind that the nuts will soften when they are heated. They will become crispy when they cool. In both roasting methods described above, don’t try to raise the heat to expedite the process, the nuts will burn!
A Few Fun Facts
- Brazil nuts develop in a large coconut-sized shell (there are about 8-24 inside each shell) on tall trees. At harvest time, each large shell weighs about 5 pounds! Workers must carry shields to protect themselves from falling nuts during harvest.
- Brazil nuts contain the highest amount of selenium of any food.
- Cashews are a relative of the poison ivy family. They are never sold in their shells because the shell contains an irritating oil.
- Peanuts are not actually a nut but rather a legume. They are grown from a bush. The part of the peanut that we eat is actually matured underground!
So What’s the Best Nut?
After reviewing the nutrition on several different types of nuts, I can’t say that there is an absolute “best”. As you can see in the chart above, the composition of nuts are quite different. Each type has something different to offer. I like walnuts because they are high in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is rare for plant foods. My other favorite nuts are almonds, cashews and pistachios. I think what it comes down to is variety. Figure out which ones you enjoy eating and then switch them up every once in awhile to reap all the benefits they have to offer!
And remember, a serving size of nuts is 1/4 cup (one small handful).
What do you think? What is YOUR favorite nut? Leave a comment in the comments section below.
photo by: IainBuchanan
chart by me!