If you have any issues with my title, get your mind out of the gutter. Nuts are undoubtedly a healthy snack, but don’t ever stand in front of a class of 7th graders and sing, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.” The song seems corny nowadays, but that Almond Joy jingle was one of the catchiest jingles from the 1980s. I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure) of seeing what happens when a school teacher accidentally takes an ill-timed walk down memory lane and sings that song in front of some to a classroom of generation Z’ers.
While cooking a dish during a demonstration, I mentioned that you can add nuts if you don’t have a peanut allergy. The teacher heard ‘nuts,’ and I must have triggered the part of her cerebral cortex that houses corny commercials and old Punky Brewster episodes. Right when I heard her say “sometimes,” I knew what was about to happen. It was like watching a tragedy unfold in slow motion. I tried to stop her, but she blurted out the whole line before I could say anything. Once she was done, I thought to myself, “Wait for it…wait for it.”
I looked at the kids and saw them all slowly gyrating, struggling to hold in the laughter. My inner twelve-year-old knew they weren’t going to hold on for much longer. Then one of our future’s finest yelled out, “She said nuts!” It was like he detonated a laughter bomb—the kids went crazy.
For the sake of my reputation, I won’t divulge if I helped her out—or if I packed up my knife bag and ran while taking care to not look back out of the fear of being turned into a pillar of salt. However, in this post, I will divulge the health benefits of eating nuts and discuss which nuts are the healthiest.
Are nuts really healthy? If so, what are the health benefits of nuts?
Nuts are healthy without a doubt. In a previous post, I highlighted an association between nut consumption and weight loss. Analyses of several largest population studies suggest associations with nuts and several other health benefits. Here are a few of them.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzed nut consumption in 76,464 participants of the Nurse’s Health Study and the 42,498 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The study showed that “compared with participants who did not eat nuts, those who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate.” The researchers considered 28 grams (1 ounce) of nuts as a serving of notes (that’s basically one handful of nuts).
Decreased Markers of Inflammation
Us physicians routinely check C-reactive protein (CRP) levels when we suspect an underlying inflammatory process. We use this test to assess the severity of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and a variety of other autoimmune conditions. Low levels of chronic inflammation may exist \in heart disease, diabetes, and even with excessive weight gain. Subsequently, these conditions may also entail a mild increase in markers of inflammation.
Can nuts lower markers of inflammation? One study recently published in the American Journal of Nutrition indicates that nuts may have an anti-inflammatory effect. The study’s researchers concluded that “people who consumed nuts greater than 5 times per week had a lower CRP level, an inflammatory marker, compared to people who ate less nuts.”
Decreased Risk of Colon, Pancreatic, and Endometrial Cancer
An analysis of 36 studies, including 30,708 patients, revealed that frequent consumption of nuts was associated with a decreased risk of developing colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and uterine cancer. This same meta-analysis did not show that eating nuts reduced the risk of developing diabetes.
Ok, nuts have health benefits, but which nuts are the healthiest?
Is it good enough to just eat peanuts? Should you throw brazil nuts in the mix? Let’s rank nuts according to a few nutritional parameters.
Top 5 Nuts for Protein
Top 5 Nuts for Fiber
Top 5 Nuts for Potassium
Top 5 Nuts for Omega 3 fatty acids
Nuts with the lowest amount of calories per serving
What’s the bottom line?
- Eat nuts if you don’t have allergies—they are healthy
- Try to only stick to 1 serving per day—the calories from nuts can get out of control quickly
- Eat a variety of nuts, but pistachios are probably the best all-around nut
- Take the proper precautions if you are going to talk about nuts in front of 7th graders
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.