When it comes to eating nuts, you’ve likely heard conflicting viewpoints over the years. Some advice encourages us to avoid nuts due to their high fat and calorie content, while other advice recommends making sure that we include them daily for various health benefits, including heart health and weight management. You’re definitely not alone if you’ve ever felt confused about how nuts should or shouldn’t fit into your day.
To help clear up some of the confusion, let’s explore some of the questions I’m commonly asked about nuts.
If I’m trying to lose body fat, should I be concerned about eating nuts?
If you lived through the low-fat era or if you have a history of calorie counting, it’s likely that at some point you’ve felt fearful of consuming nuts due to their high fat (and therefore calorie) content. Or perhaps you’ve carefully counted out a few nuts and only “allowed” yourself that small amount.
Yet, you may have also heard that that nuts are associated with numerous health benefits and that there is actually scientific research demonstrating that nut consumption is not associated with increases in body weight.
So how does this reconcile with their high calorie content? Well, some research shows an association with reduced hunger, which isn’t surprising when we consider the nutritional profile of nuts. They include fats and protein that can be very satiating. Additionally, science tells us that we don’t actually absorb all of the calories from nuts.
However, it’s still true that nuts are very dense in calories (as well as micronutrients) and if we consistently eat more food overall than our body needs, this does contribute to increased body fat being stored. It can be easy to overconsume nuts if we’re not eating mindfully. For example, if we’re regularly eating for non-hungry reasons, or if we’re snacking on them while watching TV, working or scrolling on our phone. Have you ever felt surprised to look down and find some kind of food packet almost all gone, without really noticing that you had been eating?
Nuts are a wonderful addition to a varied, whole food way of eating. They have many health benefits and can absolutely be part of how you eat if you are trying to lose body fat. However, as with anything, it is possible to have too much of a good thing!
How many nuts should I be eating?
My goal is always to encourage people to get back in touch with what their body needs, rather than prescribing set rules to follow with food. What is best for one person won’t necessarily be ideal for another, and it’s highly likely that your own individual needs will also change from day to day. So, you might feel like having different amounts of certain foods on different days. However, I understand that ‘what’ and ‘how much’ to eat can be a really confusing area for a lot of people, and so a general starting point can be helpful to guide you initially. Typically, around a 30 gram serve (or 1-2 handfuls) per day suits most adults, but please know that you don’t have to measure or weigh your food, this is just a guide.
It is possible to have too much of any one kind of food—nutritious or not. If you’re consuming a really large amount of one food, this can crowd out other foods that contain different nutrients that your body needs for great health. So, if we’re adding nuts to most of our meals and snacks and blending them up in lots of sweet food recipes, sauces, dressings, etc. that we’re consuming across the day, it might be possible that we’re having too many.
Some people may also experience changes in their digestion with large quantities of nuts and seeds due to their dietary fat and fibre content, which can contribute to loose stools if you’re having too much for your body.
Raw or roasted?
Raw nuts will be superior nutritionally, as some nutrients (such as B vitamins) are sensitive to heat, so losses can occur to some extent when they are heated. That said, roasted nuts are still very nutritious, so if you really enjoy these please feel free to continue including some.
The type of fat in nuts is predominantly a combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Some nuts are richer in monounsaturated fats (particularly macadamias, but also cashews, hazelnuts and almonds) while others are richer in polyunsaturated fats (such as walnuts, pecans and brazil nuts). Polyunsaturated fats are more sensitive to heat than monounsaturated fats, so if you prefer to choose roasted nuts, you may like to choose monounsaturated-rich nuts more frequently in roasted form than the polyunsaturated-rich options. It is also a good idea to check the ingredients list, to see if other oils have been added to roasted nuts and stick to those without added oils.
Do I need to ‘activate’ the nuts I’m eating?
To ‘activate’ nuts, usually they are soaked in water with salt added, and then dried out again in a dehydrator, or on the lowest setting in the oven. During the soaking process, enzymes within the nuts become ‘active’ to help to break down some of the phytic acid, which theoretically improves mineral bioavailability, as well as making them easier to digest in general. However, more recent research suggests that there isn’t a significant improvement in these parameters, and so the most important thing to consider is how your body responds and what feels right for you. Raw nuts that haven’t gone through this process are still very nutritious and will still have health benefits (also bear in mind that most of the research about nuts has been done with regular nuts), so if you feel good eating them and activating them doesn’t appeal, please know that you don’t have to do this.
If this is something you’d like to try, a simple online search will give you more detailed instructions on how to do this. It is also possible to buy activated nuts so you don’t have to do this yourself, however these are more expensive so it just depends on your budget and what feels right for you.
A quick note on soaking—sometimes nuts are soaked as part of a recipe to obtain the desired creamy or smooth texture, rather than for nutritional reasons.
Is there one best type of nut to eat?
All nuts have a similar nutritional profile in terms of their total fat, fibre and protein content, however there are some differences in the types of fatty acids and mineral content among different kinds. So, it’s a good idea to enjoy a variety rather than consuming just one type. This principle really applies to all of what we eat (not just nuts!). When there’s more variety in what we eat, we are more likely to be getting a good spread of all of the essential nutrients that we need for great health, and it’s also fantastic for our gut microbiome. Below are just a few examples of how different nuts can offer us different nutrients and benefits.
- Walnuts – these differ in that they contain some essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- Brazil nuts – these are the richest dietary source of selenium and they’re also particularly rich in magnesium.
- Almonds – these are richer in calcium than other types of nuts, and they’re also particularly rich in vitamin E.
- Cashews – these are slightly higher in iron than other nuts and they also contain prebiotics (including some resistant starch) which is great for our gut bacteria.