Which Nuts Are the Healthiest?

Nuts, those reliable old standbys for vegetarians and bar patrons, are much en vogue these days. And for good reason. Numerous studies have confirmed that people who eat nuts several times a week enjoy better heart health thanks to nuts' bountiful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Nuts are also easily portable, nonperishable, inexpensive compared with other sources of protein, and just plain delicious. But are there certain types of nuts that are more nutritious than others? And does eating nuts have any downside?

While experts say the type of nut you eat doesn't matter that much, there are differences in the nutritional content of various nuts. For instance, an ounce of almonds contains 163 calories and 14 grams of fat, while an ounce of macadamia nuts has 204 calories and more than 21 grams of fat. Most nuts seem to fall between those extremes, with the exception of chestnuts, which are much lower in fat and calories. Walnuts are particularly full of omega-3 fatty acids, the same heart-healthy fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon, while almonds have it over walnuts when it comes to vitamin E and magnesium. Cashews contain even more magnesium than almonds, but don't have as much vitamin E. And selenium, which may protect against prostate cancer, can be found in spades in Brazil nuts. Other great ingredients in nuts include copper, fiber, folate and arginine.

The obvious solution to the dilemma of which nut to eat? Enjoy mixed nuts, preferably unsalted. Or keep a few varieties of nuts on hand and rotate them, throwing sliced almonds over an Asian chicken salad one day and snacking on cashews with dried apricots after a workout the next. The only caveat: Since nuts are packed with calories, it's best not to down them by the handful but rather by the spoonful. Since a little goes a long way in terms of taste and nutrition, it shouldn't be that difficult. Buying nuts in their shells will make you work harder for your food, allowing you to eat less. And some nuts are even sold in portion-controlled packages if you're worried about your lack of willpower.

In expanding your nut repertoire, don't limit yourself to whole or diced nuts. Nut butters are just as nutritious and just as delicious, and can be used in even more ways. The old standby of peanut butter and jelly is always a treat, but think outside the box: Dip apples slices in peanut butter or mix pumpkin butter into oatmeal. Almond butter and cashew butter are also delicious in sandwiches, on toast, and mixed into yogurt.





Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, www.health.harvard.edu

Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com.