By Jody Paglia Tanzman, RD,LDN,CLC
Ok so this title isn’t very original, but it is the truth. I love nuts. Portable little nuggets of protein, vitamins and energy, what’s not to love? Ok, true, they are also compact sources of fat; and even though they are plentiful in the “good”, aka poly and monounsaturated fats, if you are watching your waistline you may be tempted to eliminate the extra calories. Those high levels of fat, however, are the reason that nuts can satisfy your hunger with only a small amount. In fact, recent studies have indicated that consuming raw nuts in small quantities can actually promote weight loss.
The use of nuts is endless, from creamy butters to vegan “cheese”. And while all nuts are good sources of protein and fiber, each variety is unique in its taste and nutrient profile. Here’s the low down on the 10 most common types of nuts, and why I love them:
Top 10 Most Common Nuts:
I listed almonds first because they are my absolute favorite nut. If you have read any of my prior posts, you won’t be surprised by that statement. While almonds are beneficial for overall health, they are often referred to as a heart healthy nut, and here’s why: Just 1 ounce (28g) provides 37% of your daily value of vitamin E, the highest amount found in any of the common nuts. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E helps to inhibit the development of plaque on the walls of the arteries and prevent free radical damage to the body (which can lead to cardiovascular disease as well as cancer). Almonds also contain high levels of riboflavin (vitamin B2), necessary in red blood cell formation, and magnesium, iron, copper and zinc, which are crucial to the muscular function of the heart.
Eat almonds raw or use chopped almonds as a substitute for breadcrumbs. Enjoy almond butter and milk as a basis for rich and satisfying smoothies, and use almond oil to flavor salads, sautéed greens and baked goods.
2.) Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are harvested from trees in South America, and contain the highest amount of the mineral selenium than any other food source in world. Selenium is an essential mineral that promotes DNA repair and protects the body from oxidative damage. Selenium also plays a critical role in thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism.
Because of its high fat content, Brazil nuts can be used to make an excellent substitute for cheese. Soak the nuts overnight, then buzz them in a food processor until smooth. Squeeze out any excess liquid and add your choice of herbs, spices and oils to emulate cheese.
Cashews are incredibly high in protein (5g per 1 ounce of nuts), but not only that, they are a high quality protein, containing quantities of all of the amino acids that your body requires. In addition, cashews contain high amounts of iron and more importantly, copper, which is crucial in aiding iron absorption. This makes cashews an excellent source of utilizable iron for vegetarians and vegans.
Like the Brazil nuts, ground cashews can also be used to make creamy vegan cheeses and sauces. Its delicate, rich flavor is also lovely in smoothies, stir fries, or in just about any dessert.
4.) Macadamia Nuts
Macadamia nuts contain the most calories and fat and the least amount of protein of any of the common nuts listed here (203 calories, 21g of fat and 2g of protein per ounce). But before you pick them out of your bag of mixed nuts, macadamia nuts are one of the largest sources of a special kind of monounsaturated fat, palmitoleic acid (or Omega-7). This fatty acid has been steadily studied over the past several years for its role in decreasing levels of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol, alleviating the effects of diabetes through increased insulin sensitivity, and increasing fat metabolism and controlling weight.
Macadamia nuts have a buttery taste that is ideal ground into a nut butter spread. Macadamia oil has a light, fresh taste and a high smoke point, making it ideal for sautéing and frying. The oil’s light, fresh taste is also delicious drizzled on salads or as a substitute for vegetable oil in baking.
5.) Pine Nuts (aka Pignoli Nuts)
A staple of the Mediterranean diet, pine nuts are the basis of a classic pesto. Literally the nut found in the pine cone of certain species of pines, pine nuts are rich in vitamins K and E, iron and zinc. Pine nuts also contain especially high levels of polyunsaturated fats and the mineral manganese. Manganese plays an important role in bone formation, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and is essential for normal brain and nerve function.
Besides pesto, pine nuts provide a rich, crunchy texture in stuffings and stews. They are also marvelous on raw salads or tossed with roasted vegetables and a little olive oil. Toasting releases the oils in the nuts and really brings out their flavor. Place on a sheet tray in a 350F oven and toast until golden brown (be careful, they brown very quickly).
Just behind macadamias in terms of the amount of calories and fat grams per ounce, pecans also stand out for containing more antioxidants than any other tree nut. Antioxidants prevent and repair cellular damage, which in turn fights diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Pecans also contain high levels of fiber and phytosterols, which lower cholesterol. One of these phytosterols, beta-sitosterol, can also treat the symptoms of enlarged prostates.
Sprinkle chopped, toasted pecans over oatmeal and multigrain pancakes and waffles. Or mix them into your granola or rice dishes, where their nutty, earthy flavor really shines.
Pistachios carry the lowest amount of calories per ounce of all of the common nuts, and one of the highest proteins at 6g per ounce. Like cashews, this protein contains all of the essential amino acids. Pistachios are also a good source of the B vitamins, especially B6, important in regulating metabolism, promoting immune function and maintaining cognitive function.
Eat your pistachios straight out of the shell, incorporate them into healthful breads or puree them in a blender with water to make homemade pistachio milk. Their slightly sweet taste also adds a nice contrast in spicy dishes such as curries.
8.) Hazelnuts (aka Filberts)
Also known as filberts and cobnuts, does any other nut taste as good covered in dark chocolate? Besides its versatility in the realm of desserts, hazelnuts offer high amounts of dietary fiber and phytosterols. They also contain the largest amount of folate of all tree nuts, which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and depression.
Hazelnuts taste their best after toasting in the oven. This process also aids in the removal of the outer skin.
Chop toasted hazelnuts and toss in salads or sprinkle over fruit crumbles for some depth of flavor and crunch. Or puree the nuts with garlic, olive oil and roasted red peppers to make a classic Romesco sauce perfect for dipping.
If you are looking to get more Omega-3s into your diet, look no further than walnuts. Walnuts contain significant amounts of Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), or the plant-based source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are often studied for their role in brain memory and performance, and have also been shown in to reduce inflammation in the body, lower cholesterol and may even fight cancer. Current research using animals who consumed a diet that included walnuts showed inhibited growth of prostate and breast tumors.
Walnuts have a hearty texture and flavor reminiscent of meat that makes it a useful substitution in vegetarian dishes. Pulse walnuts in a food processor and mix with oil and spices to make ground raw “meat”. For a twist on an old favorite, substitute walnuts for pine nuts when making pesto. And toasted walnut halves are great mixed in granola and trail mixes, and folded into fruit chutneys.
Yes, peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut, but are commonly used as such. Though given a bad rap for its association with food allergies, peanuts contain the highest amount of protein at 7g per ounce than any of the other nuts. Peanuts also contain good quantities of folate, niacin, iron and copper, as well antioxidants including resveratrol. Often associated with red wine and grapes, resveratrol is a powerful phenol that can lower cardiovascular risk and inhibit premature aging.
Peanuts are classically enjoyed in its butter form, but chopped peanuts can add texture to noodle and rice dishes, breads and salads. Most nuts benefit from roasting but in this case, roasting peanuts not only brings out their flavor, but also significantly increases levels of antioxidants within the nut. Just be sure to buy your peanuts dry roasted; salted and roasted nuts are often coated with high calorie, hydrogenated oils (ie: trans fats).
By sampling a variety of the nuts in the list above you’ll be sure to enjoy their many health benefits. And with a little portion control, you may even be able to lose weight too.