Nutrition in Nuts

The MIND diet recommends at least 5 servings of nuts per week. That’s just about every day, so you can see that nuts are an important part of the brain-healthy MIND diet. Different nuts offer a different mix of essential nutrients, which is why so much research is focused on mixed nuts. Eating a variety of nuts means you’ll benefit from a wider range of nutrients to help your body and mind feel its best. I get a lot of questions about which is best – and I can’t answer that :). Don’t make me choose a favorite child! But I love the curiosity, so I created a series of graphs to make it easy to see which nuts are higher in different nutrients.

Please note: Nuts do not contain any cholesterol or vitamin D, and are not a significant source of sodium (when unsalted), B12, or vitamins A and C. So I didn’t include these nutrients in the graphs. P.S. Fun fact: plants never contain cholesterol.

The Basics

All nuts are about 1/4 cup per serving when they are out of their shells. When there are no shells, they’re called “shelled,” even though “shelled” also sounds like they’d have shells. That’s because it refers to the act of taking the shells off nuts, aka shelling them. So when you’ve taken the shells off, they’re shelled nuts. I always found it a little linguistically confusing. Anyway, first things first, here’s how many nuts are in a serving.

 

Chart comparing number of nuts per 1-ounce serving
The number of nuts per 1-ounce serving varies due to variations in size and weight

 

You’ll see that there are A LOT of pine nuts per serving, and that’s just because they are so small. On the other hand, since walnuts and pecans are so big (and maybe because they naturally split in two), when you see the number of nuts per serving in the table, each one is for a half-nut. And even though Brazil nuts are pretty huge, each one is counted. If you’re the kind of snacker that likes picking up each nut individually, it may take you longer to go through pine nuts or pistachios. Slowing down can give your body time to register that it’s getting full. Slowing down also helps to prevent choking.

Next up, let’s look at how much energy, aka calories, you’ll get out each serving of nuts.

Calories per 1-ounce serving of nuts

Did you know that when we eat whole nuts (vs nut butters and nut milks, etc), the body can’t unlock all the calories? It’s not a ton, but you’re probably eating 10-30 fewer calories than what’s on a label.

Macronutrients

I love how filling nuts are, especially when they’re part of balanced snacks & meals (balanced as in a good mix of protein, carbs, and fat from wholesome foods). Below is a quick look at the macronutrients in different tree nuts, followed by a bit more on each macro.

How much Protein, Fat, and Carbs there are in a 1-ounce serving of different tree nuts

Let’s take a closer look at the protein in nuts. Below shows the grams of protein in a 1-ounce serving of nuts. By getting protein from a variety of foods throughout the day, you can meet your amino acid needs, with or without animal protein. That’s why nuts are such an important part of plant-forward eating patterns.

grams of plant protein in a 1-ounce serving of nuts

Naturally fatty foods have a variety of types of fats in them. There are no foods that are purely one type of fat, though they might be *mostly* a type of fat. For example, olive oil and avocados are known for being monounsaturated fat foods. Here’s a look at how the fats in nuts break down. You’ll notice that *most* of the fats in nuts tend to be unsaturated fats – whether that’s mono- or poly-unsaturated fats. These healthy fats are good for your heart and brain.

Grams of fat in a 1-oz serving of different types of nuts, broken down by major type of fat

 

Percent of daily maximum intake of saturated fat in a 1-ounce serving of various nuts

The MIND diet aims to limit saturated fat. With that in mind (no pun intended), let’s look at what percent of the daily maximum saturated fat you’ll get from a 1-ounce serving of nuts. Almonds contribute the least amount toward your daily max, but Brazil and macadamia nuts will get you to your max quicker. All nuts have something good to offer, so it’s not about staying away from any of these nuts. But being informed can help you choose leaner choices more often.

Nuts are generally low in carbs, so we’re going to skip that. It wouldn’t tell anything interesting. But let’s look at a non-digestible carb: Fiber. Below shows how different nuts can help you reach your daily recommended fiber intake. Anything about 10% of the Daily Value is considered “good,” but every little bit helps if you ask me.

Percent of daily recommended fiber intake in a 1-ounce serving of various nuts.

Micronutrients: Vitamins & Minerals

Now let’s look at a handful of micronutrients, and how they vary by nut. A few things to keep in mind as you look at the graphs. Warning: I’m about to get a little technical, but stay with me. OK, so, all the graphs refer to a 1-ounce serving of nuts, and they all show how much the nutrients in these nuts contribute to daily recommendations. This is shown as a percentage toward the recommendation (100%). I debated whether to show the quantity of nutrients, but numbers without context don’t mean much. It’s more important for your health to know how a food will help you get to recommended intakes. And that’s why the following graphs all show “% Daily Recommended XYZ.”

One last thing, these graphs are not exhaustive. For example, since nuts do not contain cholesterol or vitamin D, and are not a significant source of sodium (when unsalted), B12, or vitamins A and C, these nutrients aren’t graphed.

Copper is essential to forming the myelin sheath around brain cells, which helps them transfer information to each other quickly and correctly.
Americans aren’t getting enough potassium. Good sources are fruits, vegetables, and nuts can help a little, too.

 

Zinc is important for healing and immune health.

 

Iron is needed to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Percent daily recommended vitamin E and K in various nuts. Vitamins A and D are also fat soluble vitamins, but are not shown here because nuts aren’t a significant source of these nutrients.
The body needs calcium to carry messages between the brain and body.
Magnesium is needed for healthy nerve function.
Manganese is important for a healthy immune system.

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What other nuts lack in selenium, Brazil nuts more than make up for. Selenium fights oxidative stress.

 

Nuts aren’t the strongest source of B-vitamins or choline, but they contribute a little towards recommended intakes.

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