Just a handful of nuts a day can provide researched benefits such as protection against certain cancers, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation. Nuts, a whole food, pack a lot of vitamins and minerals for their size, especially vitamin E and magnesium which most people consume in low amounts. Want to improve your health easily and effortlessly? Eat a handful of raw, unsalted nuts each day. There are plenty to choose from and most won’t let you down when it comes to health benefits. Here are five of the best and why they’re so great.
#1 – Almonds
Almonds contain a number of health benefits. They contain 37% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin E, 32% of the RDI for manganese, and 19% of the RDI for magnesium. They also contain a decent amount of copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and phosphorus.
Almonds are a fantastic source of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect against oxidative stress, which can damage molecules in your cells and contribute to inflammation, aging and diseases like cancer (1, 2). The powerful antioxidants in almonds are largely concentrated in the brown layer of the skin (3, 4, 5). For this reason, blanched almonds — those with skin removed — are not the best choice from a health perspective.
Eating a handful of almonds (28 grams) may help lower the rise in blood sugar that happens after a meal by as much as 30% in people with diabetes (6). Moreover, almonds have been shown to reduce inflammation in people with type 2 diabetes (7).
Almonds may have a beneficial effect on your gut microbiota by supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus (8).
Due to their satiating properties, nuts are a great addition to an effective weight loss diet. Quality human research supports this. In one study, a low-calorie diet with 3 ounces (84 grams) of almonds increased weight loss by 62% compared to a diet enriched with complex carbohydrates (9). Another study in 100 overweight women found that those consuming almonds lost more weight than those on a nut-free diet. They also showed improvements in waist circumference and other health markers (10). Just don’t binge on them.
#2 – Cashews
Cashews, native to Brazil, have long been considered a delicacy there but cashews are surprisingly nutritious in addition to being tasty. They contain 20% of your RDI for magnesium and contain vitamins E and K, potent antioxidants that sweep through the cell, neutralizing free radicals that can cause cellular damage.
Cashews contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, including oleic and palmitoleic acids. These types of fat can actually help your heart health and have been associated with lower levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol and higher levels of healthy HDL cholesterol. As a result, consumption of the monounsaturated fats in cashews is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
One serving of cashews provides almost 100% of your RDI for copper. The presence of copper is required for a variety of physiological reactions in the body, including reactions needed for energy production, the metabolism of iron, and neurotransmission. Failure to get enough copper has been associated with poor immune system functioning; higher risk of cardiovascular disease; increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s; and impaired bone health. Cashews are an excellent vegetarian source of copper, providing more of the mineral than most other non-meat sources. In fact, eating a quarter-cup of cashews every day gives you 98 percent of your recommended daily intake of copper, which may decrease your risk of chronic disease.
In addition to containing high amounts of copper, cashews are a great source of zinc. Failing to get enough zinc compromises your immune system functioning, since this mineral is important for the development of immune system cells, production of antioxidant enzymes and activity of immune system regulators. In numerous studies, boosting zinc intake has been associated with a healthier immune response, meaning that cashews could help you fight off your next cold.
In a study of more than 80,000 women, eating nuts such as cashews was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of developing gallstones (Ros, 2010). Thus, enjoying cashews every day could lower your risk of painful gallstones.
As a bonus, cashews contain no cholesterol, making them an extraordinarily heart-healthy choice.
#3 – Peanuts
Though peanuts are a legume, not a tree nut, they have a similar nutrient profile to tree nuts. They contain 21% of your RDI for vitamin E and 11% of your RDI for magnesium.
A study in over 120,000 people found that higher peanut intake was associated with lower death rates (11).
Interestingly, one study found that women who ate peanut butter more than five times a week had lower rates of type 2 diabetes (12). Furthermore, asthma and allergic disease rates may be lower in children of mothers who ate peanuts once or more per week during pregnancy (13).
However, many brands contain large amounts of added oils, sugar and other ingredients. Therefore, it’s best to choose peanut butter with the highest peanut content. Similarly, peanuts are usually salted, which may eliminate some of their associated health benefits. Instead, try to choose plain, unsalted, unflavored peanuts.
#4 – Brazil Nuts
Want a delicious and healthy treat? Eating Brazil nuts may benefit your health in several ways, including regulating your thyroid gland, reducing inflammation, and supporting your heart, brain, and immune system. Snack on a handful of Brazil nuts. This will provide you with 11% of your RDI for vitamin E and 33% of your RDI for magnesium. Not only that, you’ll get more than 100% of your RDI for selenium.
Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. Though it’s used for a number of bodily functions, you only need to obtain small amounts of it through your diet. It is essential for your thyroid and influences your immune system and cell growth (14). Higher levels of selenium have been linked to enhanced immune function and better outcomes for cancer, infections, infertility, pregnancy, heart disease, and mood disorders (15). Low selenium intake can lead to cellular damage, reduced thyroid activity, and autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, and may also increase your risk of thyroid cancer (16, 17). Because of their high selenium content, Brazil nut consumption can act as a great source of your RDI for selenium.
Brazil nuts can also reduce cholesterol levels. What’s more, they may reduce oxidative stress and improve the function of blood vessels in obese teenagers (18, 19).
Finally, Brazil nuts may reduce inflammation in both healthy people and those undergoing hemodialysis (20, 21).
#5 – Pistachios
Like all nuts, pistachios are rich in beneficial nutrients. However, pistachios have some unique properties that set them apart. Here are some of impressive nutrient stats for just a handful of them (28 g).
- Potassium: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 14% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 24% of the RDI
- Thiamin: 16% of the RDI
- Copper: 18% of the RDI
- Manganese: 17% of the RDI
Notably, pistachios are one of the most vitamin B6-rich foods around. Vitamin B6 is important for several functions, including blood sugar regulation and the formation of hemoglobin, a molecule that carries oxygen in red blood cells. Failure to get enough vitamin B6 has been associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and cognitive dysfunction. Thus, getting vitamin B6 through your diet may improve your cardiovascular health and keep your brain sharp.
Pistachios are a good source of phosphorus, an element essential for our proper physiological functioning. Not only does phosphorus make a structural component of all cells, but it ensures that your cells can continue to produce energy and also strengthens the bones.
Among nuts, pistachios have the highest content of lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are very important antioxidants for eye health (22, 7). They protect the eyes against damage caused by blue light and age-related macular degeneration, a condition in which your central vision is impaired or lost (23, 24).
Furthermore, two of the most abundant antioxidants in pistachios — polyphenols and tocopherols — may help protect against cancer and heart disease (25, 26). Interestingly, the antioxidants in pistachios have been shown to be very accessible in the stomach and thus more likely to be absorbed during digestion (27).
While eating nuts has many health benefits, they’re typically high in calories. Fortunately, pistachios are among the lowest-calorie nuts. With protein comprising about 20% of their weight, pistachios are second only to almonds when it comes to protein content (28). They also have a higher ratio of essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, than any other nut (29). These amino acids are considered essential because your body cannot make them, so you have to get them from your diet.
Pistachios are high in fiber, with one serving containing 3 grams (30). This promotes healthy gut bacteria. Fiber moves through your digestive system mostly undigested. But some types of fiber are digested by the good bacteria in your gut, acting as prebiotics. Gut bacteria then ferment the fiber and convert it into short-chain fatty acids, which may have several health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing digestive disorders, cancer and heart disease (31, 32). Butyrate is perhaps the most beneficial of these short-chain fatty acids. Eating pistachios has been shown to increase the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut more than eating almonds does (33).
Go Nuts for Nuts
Depending on your tastes, you really can’t go wrong with almost any nut. They’re all fairly abundant in nutrients that help our bodies maintain their health and ward off disease and sickness. These top 5 nut recommendation come with exceptional nutrient profiles but the health benefits mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg.
What makes nuts fantastic is how easy they are to incorporate in our diets. We only need a handful a day to reap their full benefits. They’re tasty too. Don’t just settle on one. For best health rewards, eat a variety. Your body and health will thank you.
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