8 Health Benefits of Nuts
Written by Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE on January 17, 2019
Nuts are a very popular food.
They're tasty, convenient, and can be enjoyed on all kinds of diets — from keto to vegan.
Despite being high in fat, they have a number of impressive health and weight benefits.
Here are the top 8 health benefits of eating nuts.
What Are Nuts?
Nuts are seed kernels that are widely used in cooking or eaten on their own as a snack. They’re high in fat and calories.
They contain a hard, inedible outer shell that usually needs to be cracked open to release the kernel inside.
Fortunately, you can buy most nuts from the store already shelled and ready to eat.
Here are some of the most commonly consumed nuts:
Though peanuts are technically legumes like peas and beans, they’re usually referred to as nuts due to their similar nutrition profile and characteristics.
SUMMARY: Nuts are edible, high-fat seed kernels enclosed by a hard shell. They’re widely eaten as a snack food or used in cooking.
1. A Great Source of Many Nutrients.
Nuts are highly nutritious. One ounce (28 grams) of mixed nuts contains (1):
Protein: 5 grams
Fat: 16 grams, including 9 grams of monounsaturated fat
Carbs: 6 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Vitamin E: 12% of the RDI
Magnesium: 16% of the RDI
Phosphorus: 13% of the RDI
Copper: 23% of the RDI
Manganese: 26% of the RDI
Selenium: 56% of the RDI
Some nuts are higher in certain nutrients than others. For instance, just one Brazil nut provides more than 100% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for selenium (2).
The carb content of nuts is highly variable. Hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts have fewer than 2 grams of digestible carbs per serving, while cashews have almost 8 digestible carbs per serving.
That being said, nuts are generally an excellent food to eat on a low-carb diet.
SUMMARYNuts are high in fat, low in carbs, and a great source of several nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium.
2. Loaded With Antioxidants.
Nuts are antioxidant powerhouses.
Antioxidants, including the polyphenols in nuts, can combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals — unstable molecules that may cause cell damage and increase disease risk (3).
In one study in 13 people, eating walnuts or almonds increased polyphenol levels and significantly reduced oxidative damage, compared to a control meal (7).
Another study found that 2–8 hours after consuming whole pecans, participants experienced a 26–33% drop in their levels of oxidized “bad” LDL cholesterol — a major risk factor for heart disease (8).
SUMMARYNuts contain antioxidants known as polyphenols, which may protect your cells and “bad” LDL cholesterol from damage caused by free radicals.
3. May Aid Weight Loss.
Though they're considered a high-calorie food, research suggests that nuts may help you lose weight.
One large study assessing the effects of the Mediterranean diet found that people assigned to eat nuts lost an average of 2 inches (5 cm) from their waists — significantly more than those given olive oil (11).
In one study in overweight women, those eating almonds lost nearly three times as much weight and experienced a significantly greater decrease in waist size compared to the control group (15).
What's more, even though nuts are quite high in calories, research shows that your body doesn't absorb all of them, as a portion of fat stays trapped within the nut's fibrous wall during digestion (16, 17, 18).
For instance, while the nutrition facts on a package of almonds may indicate that a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving has 160–170 calories, your body only absorbs about 129 of these calories (19).
SUMMARYNuts have been shown to promote weight loss rather than contribute to weight gain. Several studies indicate that your body doesn't absorb all of the calories in nuts.
4. May Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides.
Nuts have impressive effects on cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Pistachios have been shown to lower triglycerides in people who are obese and those with diabetes.
The cholesterol-lowering power of nuts may be due to their high content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Almonds and hazelnuts appear to raise “good” HDL cholesterol while reducing total and “bad” LDL cholesterol. One study found that ground, sliced, or whole hazelnuts had similar beneficial effects on cholesterol levels (23, 24, 25, 26).
Another study in women with metabolic syndrome observed that eating a 1-ounce (30-gram) mix of walnuts, peanuts, and pine nuts per day for 6 weeks significantly lowered all types of cholesterol — except “good” HDL (27, 28).
SUMMARYNuts may help lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while boosting levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
5. Beneficial for Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome.
Type 2 diabetes is a common disease affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of risk factors that may increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Therefore, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome are strongly linked.
Interestingly, nuts may be one of the best foods for people with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
First off, they’re low in carbs and don't raise blood sugar levels much. Thus, substituting nuts for higher-carb foods should lead to reduced blood sugar levels.
In a 12-week controlled study, people with metabolic syndrome who ate just under 1 ounce (25 grams) of pistachios twice per day experienced a 9% decrease in fasting blood sugar, on average (37).
What’s more, compared to the control group, the pistachio group had greater reductions in blood pressure and C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation linked to heart disease.
However, the evidence is mixed and not all studies note a benefit from eating nuts in people with metabolic syndrome (38).
SUMMARYSeveral studies have shown that blood sugar, blood pressure, and other health markers improve when people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome include nuts in their diet.
6. May Reduce Inflammation.
Nuts have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation is your body's way of defending itself from injury, bacteria, and other potentially harmful pathogens.
However, chronic, long-term inflammation can cause damage to organs and increase disease risk. Research suggests that eating nuts may reduce inflammation and promote healthy aging (39).
In a study on the Mediterranean diet, people whose diets were supplemented with nuts experienced a 35% and 90% decrease in the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), respectively (40).
Similarly, some nuts — including pistachios, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and almonds — have been found to fight inflammation in healthy people and those with serious conditions like diabetes and kidney disease (25, 37, 41, 42, 43, 44).
Yet, one study on almond consumption in healthy adults observed little difference between the almond and control groups — though a few inflammatory markers decreased in those eating almonds (45).
SUMMARYResearch suggests that nuts may reduce inflammation, especially in people with diabetes, kidney disease, and other serious health conditions.
7. High in Beneficial Fiber.
Fiber provides many health benefits.
While your body can't digest fiber, the bacteria that live in your colon can.
Many types of fiber function as prebiotics or food for your healthy gut bacteria.
Your gut bacteria then ferment the fiber and turn it into beneficial short-chain fatty acids(SCFAs).
Plus, fiber helps you feel full and reduces the number of calories you absorb from meals. One study suggests that increasing fiber intake from 18 to 36 grams daily may result in up to 130 fewer calories absorbed (49, 50).
Here are the nuts with the highest fiber content per 1-ounce (28-gram) serving:
Almonds: 3.5 grams
Pistachios: 2.9 grams
Hazelnuts: 2.9 grams
Pecans: 2.9 grams
Peanuts: 2.6 grams
Macadamias: 2.4 grams
Brazil nuts: 2.1 grams
SUMMARYMany nuts are high in fiber, which can reduce disease risk, help keep you full, decrease calorie absorption, and improve gut health.
8. May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke.
Nuts are extremely good for your heart.
Several studies suggest that nuts help lower heart disease and stroke risk due to their benefits for cholesterol levels, “bad” LDL particle size, artery function, and inflammation (11, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57).
Interestingly, one study on the Mediterranean diet found that people who ate nuts had a significant decline in small LDL particles and an increase in large LDL particles, as well as “good” HDL cholesterol levels (11).
In another study, people with normal or high cholesterol were randomly assigned to consume either olive oil or nuts with a high-fat meal.
People in the nut group had better artery function and lower fasting triglycerides than the olive oil group — regardless of their initial cholesterol levels (51).
SUMMARYNuts may significantly lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating nuts increases “bad” LDL particle size, raises “good” HDL cholesterol, improves artery function, and has various other benefits.
Delicious, Versatile, and Widely Available.
Nuts can be enjoyed whole, as nut butters, or chopped up and sprinkled on food.
They’re widely available in grocery stores and online and come in a wide variety of options, including salted, unsalted, seasoned, plain, raw, or roasted.
In general, it's healthiest to eat nuts raw or toast them in the oven at a temperature below 350°F (175°C). Dry-roasted nuts are the next-best option, but try to avoid nuts roasted in vegetable and seed oils.
Nuts can be kept at room temperature, which makes them ideal for on-the-go snacks and traveling. However, if you're going to be storing them for long, a refrigerator or freezer will keep them fresher.
SUMMARYNuts can be enjoyed whole, as nut butters, or chopped up on food. They’re healthiest raw or toasted. Store them at room temperature or put them in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresher for longer.
The Bottom Line
Eating nuts on a regular basis may improve your health in many ways, such as by reducing diabetes and heart disease risk, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
This nutritious high-fiber treat may even aid weight loss — despite its high calorie count.
As long as you eat them in moderation, nuts make for a tasty addition to a healthy, balanced diet.