By Dr. Mercola
Raw organic nuts are a great source of healthy fat, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. And, contrary to popular belief, eating healthy fat will actually help you lose weight. Far more often than not, if you're struggling with excess weight, it's because you're eating too much sugar and non-vegetable fiber carbs.
In fact, a high-fat, moderate protein, and low-carb diet is one of the most effective ways to shed stubborn weight, as it helps shift your body from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel.
This kind of diet also promotes mitochondrial health, which is important for overall health and disease prevention.
Research1 has confirmed that weight loss is one of the health benefits of regular nut consumption. Compared to people who avoid nuts, those who eat nuts on a regular basis also tend to have:
- Lower systolic blood pressure
- Fewer risk factors for metabolic syndrome2 and a lower risk for diabetes
- Better cardiovascular health
- Reduced mortality risk
- Greater longevity
Nuts Linked to Life Extension and Reduced Risk of Disease
A number of studies have linked nut consumption to life extension.3 One large-scale, 30-year long Harvard study4,5,6,7 found that:
- People who ate a small handful (approximately 1 ounce or 28 grams) of nuts seven times per week or more were 20 percent less likely to die for any reason, compared to those who avoided nuts.
- Eating nuts at least five times per week was associated with a 29 percent drop in mortality risk from heart disease, and an 11 percent drop in mortality risk from cancer.
- Even those who ate nuts only occasionally — less than once a week — had a 7 percent reduction in mortality.
More recently, Dutch researchers found that people who ate just 10 grams of nuts each day had a 23 percent lower risk of death from any cause. This study went on for 10 years and included more than 120,000 men and women between the ages of 55 and 69.8,9,10
Moreover, as reported by Parent Herald:11
"[T]he research revealed a decrease in neurodegenerative disease by 43 percent, respiratory disease by 39 percent and diabetes by 30 percent for people who consumed nuts more ... [P]eople who eat nuts also suffer fewer deaths due to cancer, heart problems and respiratory diseases ..."
Another recent study12 from Tehran, which included data from more than 50,000 people, also found that nut consumption was inversely associated with all-cause mortality. According to the authors:
"Among specific causes, significant inverse associations were observed between nut consumption and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, all cancers and gastrointestinal cancers.
This study provides evidence for an inverse association between nut consumption and mortality in a developing country, where nut consumption does not track with a healthy lifestyle."
A Handful of Almonds Each Day Helps Cut Junk Food Consumption
One reason nuts are so beneficial is that many — including walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, and almonds — contain the amino acid l-arginine, which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with heart disease, or those who have increased risk for heart disease due to multiple cardiac risk factors.
They also contain healthy fats your body needs for optimal function, plus moderate amounts of protein and other valuable vitamins and minerals. According to a recent University of Florida study, eating a handful of almonds each day is a simple way to improve your diet and cut down on junk food.
For a period of three weeks, 28 families were asked to add whole almonds or almond butter to their diet. The adults were asked to eat 1.5 ounces of almonds or the equivalent in almond butter each day. Kids were asked to eat 0.5 ounce of whole almonds daily, or the equivalent in almond butter.
As reported by CTV News:13
"Healthy Eating Index scores were taken before the participants started adding almonds into their diet. The score is a measure of diet quality in line with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
A score below 51 indicates a poor diet, a score between 51 and 80 suggests a diet that needs improvement and a score higher than 80 indicates a good diet ...
[A]fter adding almonds to their diet, the parents' Healthy Eating Index average scores increased from 53.7 ± 1.8 to 61.4 ± 1.4, while the children's scores went up from 53.7 ± 2.6 to 61.4 ± 2.2.
Participants also increased their Healthy Eating Index scores for total protein foods and decreased the intake of empty calories."
What You Need to Know About Almonds
While boasting many health benefits, including weight loss and blood sugar stabilization, almonds are actually toward the bottom of my "top nut" list due to their elevated carb and protein content. Every four almonds can add up to 1 gram of protein.
Additionally, they are relatively high in omega-6 fats, which most of us eat in excess. Although ¾ of the fat in almonds is monounsaturated, one-fourth is pure omega-6 fats with virtually no omega-3 fat.
Another factor to consider is the fact that virtually all almonds are pasteurized — even if they're labeled "raw."
The law requiring almonds to be pasteurized, either by roasting, blanching, steam processing, or Propylene Oxide (PPO) treatment, was enacted in September 2007, following a number of salmonella outbreaks traced back to raw almonds.14
The only way you can purchase truly raw, unpasteurized almonds in North America is by finding a vendor who has obtained a waiver from the pasteurization requirement. In order to get such a waiver, the grower can only sell limited quantities of almonds directly to customers at local markets.
If you live in California, where 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown, you may be lucky enough to find a small, local grower selling raw almonds. Elsewhere, this could be quite challenging.
Also keep in mind that one of the healthiest aspects of almonds is their skin, which is rich in antioxidants including phenols, flavonoids and phenolic acids typically associated with vegetables and fruits.15 So opting for unshelled almonds, opposed to blanched (de-skinned) ones, is a better choice.
3 Top Picks: Macadamias, Pecans, and Walnuts
My favorite nuts are macadamia and pecans, as they provide the highest amount of healthy fat while being on the lower end in terms of carbs and protein. Raw macadamia nuts also contain high amounts of vitamin B1, magnesium, and manganese. Just one serving of macadamia nuts net 58 percent of what you need in manganese and 23 percent of the recommended daily value of thiamin.
Moreover, about 60 percent of the fatty acid in macadamia is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. This is about the level found in olives, which are well known for their health benefits. This little tidbit is a fact few people make note of when discussing the benefits of macadamias. Pecans also boast more than 19 different vitamins and minerals that studies suggest can help you lower LDL cholesterol and promote healthy arteries.
Unlike almonds, they have almost no omega-6 or omega-3 but the little that is there is 90 percent lower than that found in almonds. With respect to protein, 1 ounce of macadamia nuts will provide you with only 2.2 grams of protein, while a similar serving of almonds will provide nearly three times as much. Finally, 1 ounce of macadamia nuts only has 4 grams of carbs, but over half of those are non-digestible fiber so it provides an ultra-low 2 grams of sugar per ounce of nuts.
Walnuts are another excellent choice with many health-boosting properties, including anti-cancer activity (cutting breast cancer risk in mice by 50 percent, and prostate cancer growth by 30 to 40 percent), and improved reproductive health in men, just to mention a couple.
Just one-quarter cup of walnuts provides more than 100 percent of the daily recommended value of plant-based omega-3 fats, along with high amounts of copper, manganese, molybdenum, and biotin. They also contain phytosterols and antioxidants with powerful free-radical scavenging abilities.16 As with almonds, up to 90 percent of the antioxidants in walnuts are found in the skin.
Top Picks Based on Their Fat-Protein-Carb Ratios
The following list shows the fat, protein, and carbohydrate content17 in grams per one ounce for your most common tree nuts. The ones toward the top have what I consider more ideal nutrient ratios, i.e. higher fat, moderate-to-low protein, and fewer carbs.
(grams per ounce)
(grams per ounce)
(grams per ounce)
What You Need to Know About Peanuts
Despite the name, peanuts are not actually a nut. They are legumes, and as a general rule I don't recommend them. Not because they're not nutritious — they do have many valuable nutrients18 — but because they tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides and frequently contaminated with aflatoxin;19 toxic metabolites produced by certain molds that grow in soil and moist environments.
Contamination can occur anytime during preharvest, storage, and/or processing. Unbeknownst to many, gut problems such as leaky gut can be related to the presence of mycotoxins such as aflatoxin. To rid your body of aflatoxin, you need to use bentonite clay. Activated charcoal will absorb other mycotoxins, but not aflatoxin.
In terms of nutrition, peanuts also have the drawback of being relatively high in omega-6, so they may further skew your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio — a problem you may struggle with if you're eating processed foods and not enough omega-3 fats.
Should Nuts Be Avoided to Prevent Allergy?
While nuts as a general rule receive top marks for being a healthy addition to your diet, there are a few factors to consider. Peanuts tend to be the most allergenic, but other tree nuts can also cause allergic reactions. Moreover, research suggests that daily consumption of nuts during pregnancy can raise the odds of your child having asthma symptoms by about 50 percent.20
However, the conventional recommendation that children under 3 should not be given nut or peanut products in order to avoid allergies has been challenged by a number of more recent studies. Research actually suggests that exposing children with peanut allergy to trace amounts of peanuts can help de-sensitize their immune systems and boost their tolerance.
In one such study,21 allergic children between the ages of 7 and 16 were given very small doses of peanut protein powder, beginning with a dose equivalent to about 1/70th of one peanut. After six months of gradually increasing the dose, more than 90 percent of the children could tolerate the equivalent of five peanuts in one sitting with no reaction. Another study22 published just last year found that exposure to peanut products during infancy cut the risk of allergy by 80 percent.
Moreover, follow-up research23,24 suggests the allergy protection a child gets from being exposed to nuts during infancy can be sustained even if nuts are later avoided for up to a year. As reported by BBC News:25
"The New England Journal of Medicine study26 looked at 550 children deemed prone to developing a peanut allergy ... The new study suggests that if a child has consumed peanut snacks within the first 11 months of life, then at the age of 5 they can afford to stop eating the food entirely for a year, and maintain no allergy.
Lead author Prof. Gideon Lack said: '[The research] clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting.' He said that part of the problem was that people lived in a 'culture of food fear.' 'I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance,' he told the BBC News ..."
Ascertain Whether Your Child Is Allergic Before You Introduce Peanuts
While this strategy appears to have merit, please do not try this without proper medical supervision — especially if you know your child is allergic to peanuts or nuts. The children in these studies were exposed to peanuts in a hospital setting where they could receive prompt medical treatment if a reaction occurred. It's important to remember that food allergies such as these can in fact be lethal.
Moreover, never give your baby whole nuts, as they pose a severe choking hazard. Smooth peanut butter or age-appropriate peanut-containing snacks could be used, but again, I'd advise you to use caution. Children with other known food allergies and/or eczema tend to be at increased risk of peanut allergy. If you're at all unsure about whether your child might be allergic to peanuts, ask your pediatrician to perform an allergy test.
As lead author Professor Gideon Lack told The Guardian:27
"They should have a peanut allergy test involving a pinprick in the skin. If there is no reaction, they can start eating peanuts. If their skin comes up in a red weal measuring less than 4mm, then peanuts can be introduced to the diet carefully under medical supervision. But a larger red weal in the skin test means they probably have a peanut allergy already.
Lack said it was believed to be possible for some babies to become allergic to peanuts even before they are old enough to eat them, because peanut molecules in the environment — perhaps on the hands of an adult who has eaten a peanut butter sandwich — can enter through broken skin caused by eczema. But he said it was important to get most babies eating some form of peanut snack or food as early in their life as possible."
Ideally, Choose Raw Organic Nuts
Raw organic nuts are a convenient superfood, and a great source of healthy fats. That said, most nuts should still be eaten in moderation. Not because they're high in fat or calories, but rather because they're high in protein and/or carbs. Most Americans consume three to five times more protein than they need, along with excessive starchy carbs and not enough healthy fats.
Excess dietary protein can lead to elevated blood sugar, weight gain, kidney stress, leaching of bone minerals, and stimulation of cancer cells, and it's easy to overdo it if you eat a few handfuls of high-protein nuts like almonds or pistachios. A more ideal protein intake is likely around one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, which for most is 40 to 70 grams a day. This is why I favor macadamias and pecans, as they have the lowest protein and highest fat content.
As a general rule, I do not recommend peanuts, due to the risk of pesticide and aflatoxin contamination. However, complete abstinence from early childhood could potentially increase your child's risk of developing a peanut allergy, so you'll have to weigh the various risks and benefits.
Opting for an organic brand of peanut butter that contains nothing but ground peanuts will help you avoid the risk of pesticides. Before introducing peanut butter, be sure to perform an allergy test to avoid a potential disaster.