Almonds, walnuts — What is the healthiest nut? And what about peanut butter?

Most nuts are going to provide healthy fat, fiber and protein.

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Walnuts are a really good source of Omega threes, and they help increase HDL levels — the “good cholesterol.” 

Walnuts are a really good source of Omega threes, and they help increase HDL levels — the “good cholesterol.”

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Nut alternatives have stolen the limelight in the past decade — popular milk alternatives like almond milk and cashew milk quickly became fan favorites, as well as nut butter, peanut butter’s now-popular cousin.

Nuts belong to the protein food group and may act as a key protein component in vegetarian diets. According to myplate.gov, the general recommended daily intake of protein is 5-6 ounces for adults. One tablespoon of peanut butter or ½ ounce of nuts equals one ounce for this daily intake.

Looking to eat more nuts on a daily basis? Here are the nutrients you’d gain:

What is the healthiest nut?

Most nuts are going to provide healthy fat, fiber and protein, but keep an eye out for these two nutrient-dense favorites:

Walnuts

“Walnuts are a really good source of Omega threes, and they help increase HDL levels,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Danielle Crumble Smith.

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol.” HDL cholesterol absorbs cholesterol in the blood and brings it to the liver to flush out of the body. High levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and strokes.

Studies suggest walnuts also improve memory, learning, motor coordination, anxiety and locomotor activity.

Almonds

Almonds are a good source of vitamin E.

Almonds are a good source of vitamin E.

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In addition to being a good source of fiber and protein, almonds are also high in vitamin E, which protects from cell damage by fighting free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules that can lead to cellular aging, damage and cause disease.

“The more antioxidants you have, the more you’re setting your body up for success in being able to protect yourself,” Crumble Smith says.

Adding any type of nuts, legumes or seeds to your diet is going to contribute to a healthier diet. Nuts are a good source of protein, though be aware pecans and macadamia nuts have far less protein than other kinds.

But as tasty as they can be, sometimes a handful of almonds doesn’t feel as satisfying to our stomach. Crumble Smith says this makes it easy to overeat nuts or nut butter.

“If people are focusing on weight (loss), find ways to incorporate that into a meal so you’re not relying on the nuts or the butter to fill you up,” she says. “You’re using that as a healthy fat source, so you can enjoy it while filling up on other components.”

If you’re looking for a way to incorporate more nuts into your diet, try out these tips:

  • Top your oatmeal, yogurt or cereal with them
  • Add them as a crunchy topping in a salad
  • Add some walnuts to your brownies or banana bread
  • Add them to a veggie dish, like these caramelized onion maple Brussels sprouts
  • Add whole nuts or peanut butter to your smoothie

Strictly botanically speaking, almonds are classified not as nuts, but as fruit seeds. This is true for many of the other foods we colloquially classify as nuts. In fact, the USDA classifies all nuts as fruits because they are “dry, single-seeded fruits that have high oil content.”

Is peanut butter good for you?

Peanuts are technically a legume — like peas, edamame and lentils — but are considered a nut in the eyes of society because of their distinct taste and name.

Peanut butter is a popular method of incorporating peanuts into your diet, but peanut butter lovers should be aware of the ingredient label on the back. Most popular peanut butter brands contain added sugar and hydrogenated oil to prevent the mixture from separating. Natural peanut butter often only contains one or two ingredients — peanuts and a bit of salt.

When it comes to peanut butter, consider “natural” options and check ingredient labels on all brands/styles for added sugar amounts.

When it comes to peanut butter, consider “natural” options and check ingredient labels on all brands/styles for added sugar amounts.

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“For somebody who eats relatively healthy and just hates natural peanut butter, is peanut butter like Skippy or Jif going to be so bad for you? No,” Crumble Smith says. “But if people don’t mind consuming the natural, it is going to be better for you [with] less processed ingredients.”

One easy solution is to make your own peanut butter — a quick way to ensure you know exactly what you’re eating. To follow Crumble Smith’s recipe, simply blend peanuts in a food processor or high-powered blender for several minutes until the consistency turns from crunchy to smooth. She says she sometimes adds a spoonful of store-bought peanut butter to make it even creamier, but you can achieve the consistency with just peanuts as well.

If desired, add salt or experiment with a new flavor by adding cinnamon to your homemade nut butter.

Are Brazil nuts good for you?

Brazil nuts are a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc, protein, fatty acids and have been shown to increase HDL levels. But because brazil nuts contain high amounts of selenium, eating too much can push your body past the upper limit of selenium and can cause a number of effects over time. 

Brazil nuts are a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc, protein, fatty acids and have been shown to increase HDL levels. But because brazil nuts contain high amounts of selenium, eating too much can push your body past the upper limit of selenium and can cause a number of effects over time.

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There are almost three million views on videos related to Brazil nuts on TikTok, mostly the internet squabbling about how to eat them and how many to eat a day.

Brazil nuts are a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc, protein, fatty acids and have been shown to increase HDL levels.

Brazil nuts also have high levels of selenium, which is important for thyroid function, reproduction, DNA production and protecting from free radicals and infection. Selenium is also found in seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, breads, cereals and other grain products, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But because Brazil nuts contain such high amounts of selenium, eating too much can push your body past the upper limit of selenium and can cause a number of effects over time. According to the National Institutes of Health, these effects include diarrhea, nausea, brittle or lost hair and nails, skin rashes, irritability, bad breath or taste in the mouth and nervous system malfunction.

A single Brazil nut contains 68-91 micrograms of selenium. The upper limit of selenium for children under 3 is less than 100 micrograms, just 150 micrograms for ages 4-8, 280 micrograms for children 9-13 and 400 micrograms for anyone 14 and over.

Individuals with low thyroid function or who have been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s could benefit from one to two Brazil nuts per day, Crumble Smith says. For everyone else, having one or two mixed in with other nuts is recommended more as an occasional snack than a daily staple.

“If you take a multivitamin, check to see how much selenium is present and evaluate your intake of other selenium-rich food sources so that you can be aware of your baseline intake,” Crumble Smith said. But as always, consult your physician if you have questions specific to your health and diet.

Read more at usatoday.com.

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