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).
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.
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 foods
- 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).