How to Choose the Healthiest Nuts and Seeds

Nuts

Nuts and seeds are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and other nutrients. But nuts are not all created equal. A cashew isn’t a pistachio. A macadamia isn’t an almond. And some nuts come smothered in sugar or salt. Here’s how to shop for the best.

Choose the heart-healthiest nuts

Most nuts or seeds should help lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, especially if it’s high. That’s because they have considerably more polyunsaturated fat than saturated fat. Those with the most poly vs. saturated: walnuts, sunflower seeds, and soynuts. (Soynuts—and peanuts—are technically legumes, not nuts.)

Brazil nuts, cashews, and macadamias have the least poly vs. saturated fat. So, go for almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, soynuts, walnuts, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead.

Just remember to eat nuts instead of foods that are rich in saturated fat (like cheese, butter, or ice cream) or foods rich in refined carbs (like cookies, cupcakes, or chips).

Trim sodium

Most nuts taste perfectly fine without salt. But if you crave something salty, choose nuts with “low sodium,” “lightly salted,” or “50% less salt” on the label. Look for no more than 80 milligrams of sodium per ounce.

Minimize sugar

Skip clusters, glazed, candied, or chocolate- or yogurt-coated nuts. If you have a sweet tooth, stick with nuts that are honey roasted or lightly dusted with cocoa or other flavorings. Look for no more than 5 grams of sugar (about 1 teaspoon) per ounce. Skip nuts sweetened with acesulfame-potassium or sucralose.

 

And here are some tips for making nuts a part of your healthy diet:

Watch your portion (and calories)

Nuts are calorie dense, so you should keep track of how many you’re munching. One ounce of nuts or seeds has about 150 to 200 calories. Here’s about how many make one ounce:

  • Almonds: 20-24
  • Brazil nuts: 6-8
  • Cashews: 16-18
  • Hazelnuts: 19-21
  • Macadamias: 10-12
  • Peanuts: 40
  • Pecans: 18-20 halves
  • Pistachios: 47-49
  • Walnuts: 10-14 halves
  • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds: 1/4 cup

Shell your nuts

Cracking open peanuts, walnuts, or pistachios may slow you down, especially if the shells remind you of how many you’ve eaten.

Swap nuts for less-healthy foodsSalad with nuts

  • Sprinkle toasted nuts instead of croutons on your salad.
  • Snack on a handful of nuts (and fruit) instead of a candy bar or granola bar.
  • Replace a sugary cereal that has nuts in its name (like Honey Nut Cheerios or Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut) with a whole grain cereal that has little or no added sugar (like shredded wheat). Then add your own nuts (and fruit).
  • Garnish sautéed vegetables with toasted slivered almonds or with sunflower seeds instead of cheese.
  • Use smoked nuts instead of bacon in salads.
  • Nosh on a handful of nuts instead of potato chips or pretzels.
  • Eat a peanut butter or almond butter sandwich instead of ham & swiss.
  • Replace breading on baked fish or chicken with a coating of sliced almonds or other chopped nuts.
  • Instead of eating a sweetened yogurt, add some toasted nuts (and berries, sliced peaches, bananas, etc.) to plain low-fat yogurt.

 Photos: © Dream79/fotolia.com (top), sarsmis/fotolia.com (salad).

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5 Replies to “How to Choose the Healthiest Nuts and Seeds”

  1. I like this article. Nuts and seeds are proving to have many benefits and they offer an easy way to satisfy those between-meal hunger pangs in a nutritious way.

    I haven’t met an edible nut or seed I didn’t like. All of them have their pluses and minuses, so how to choose? I solved this dilemma by creating my own mix. I buy a half pound each of all of the nuts and seeds mentioned in the above article (adding sesame seeds and chia seeds) and mix them together and store them in a large mason jar in the freezer. Typically, twice a day, I’ll measure out an ounce (by weight) of the mix and ingest it either with cereal (usually in the morning) or with some fruit in the evening as a dessert.

    And, for those times when I might want a nut or seed butter, I also have prepared my version directly from my nut/seed mixture and keep it in the refrigerator. It is better than any nut or seed butter I have had to date. It’s all a bit labor intensive for perhaps an hour every month or two, but definitely worth it.

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: Dry-roasted, oil-roasted, and raw nuts all have about the same calories and saturated fat. There is no difference in nutritional value for regular and organic nuts, but you can choose them if you prefer to buy organic.

      1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: The cashew tree belongs to the same family of plants that causes poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The nut is composed of an inner kernel and a double layered outer shell. Between the layers of shell is an oil containing 12 chemically distinct chemicals which can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. Cashew nuts are partially processed before importation into the United States to remove the shells and oil, so “poisonous” reactions to cashews are uncommon in the United States.

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