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The 5 Healthiest Nuts You Can Eat

Nuts are great sources of healthy fats, and the healthiest nuts contain nutrients that may help lower cholesterol and more.

Walnuts with and without shells (filling the picture). Background of fresh walnuts.Melica/Shutterstock

Walnuts

It’s been said that walnuts are the oldest known tree food, dating back 10,000 years. Walnuts appear to have a wide variety of health benefits, plus they’re rich in certain phytochemicals—especially phenols, phytates, and phytosterols—making them the

top nut of all the healthiest nuts. They’re a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to anti-inflammatory benefits. Specifically, walnuts are rich in alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid associated with improved bone health and prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A year-long walnut-rich diet improved total and LDL cholesterol in obese women, as noted in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Walnuts may have more cardiac benefits, too. With powerful antioxidant qualities, proteins in walnuts fight colon and breast cancer cells, shown in a study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.  Walnuts are the star of these 10 meals.

Peeled almonds closeupAmawasri Pakdara/Shutterstock

Almonds


Most of the world’s almonds come from California, and interestingly, they hail from the peach family. They’ve been around since Biblical times and have been touted as one of the healthiest nuts (and foods in general) for nearly as long. And with good reason. The Journal of Nutrition published research showing reduction in body weight, abdominal fat, and blood pressure in obese individuals after eating 15 percent of their calories from almonds for 12 weeks. Additionally, a 2017 study done in India showed better glucose control, improved levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, and reduced waist size in adults with diabetes eating almonds for just three weeks. Almonds are also great sources of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and folate. Snack on them as is, or get their benefits though almond butter, almond flour, and almond milk.

lots of pistachiosJIANG-HONGYAN/Shutterstock

Pistachios

Americans consume an estimated 45,000 tons of pistachios each year, the majority of which come from Iran. A study published in Metabolism showed significant improvement in cholesterol and triglycerides in diabetic adults who ate pistachios every day for a month. Another group of researchers found that eating pistachios for four months improved blood sugar control in adults with pre-diabetes. Pistachios contain resveratrol, an antioxidant associated with better glucose levels in people with diabetes. As reported in Diabetes Care, the people with pre-diabetes had improved insulin resistance and inflammatory markers as well. The anti-inflammatory benefits may come from pistachios’ phytochemicals, such as phenols, proanthocyanidins, and flavonoids. Here are 15 more of the healthiest foods people with diabetes can eat.

Close up Macadamia nuts on  white wooden background , superfood and healthy food concept , overhead or top view shot with vintage color toneCozine/Shutterstock

Macadamia nuts

Nicknamed the “Queen of Nuts,” macadamia nuts are native to Australia. Research has found links between macadamia nut consumption and lower risk of heart disease. In fact, a 2015 review of six clinical trials concluded that incorporating macadamia nuts into the diet helped lower total and LDL cholesterol. Macadamia nuts are good sources of thiamine and manganese, too. In short: Macadamia nuts appear to have cardiovascular benefits, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make them part of your daily diet. Don’t miss these other foods that are more nutritious than you thought.

cashew nuts full framePriscila Zambotto/Getty Images

Cashews


Cashews are a popular snack nut—and they’re just as healthy as they are delicious. Cashews contain phytates with anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the essential minerals phosphorous, magnesium, copper, and manganese. Recent research reveals that men and women with moderately elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol who consumed between 16 and 36 cashews daily, experienced a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol after one month. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is the only published study to date linking cashews to improved blood lipids. Have you ever asked yourself, “How do cashews grow?” (Hint: it’s weird) Next, check out the healthiest foods you can buy in the supermarket.

Sources
  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Cashew Consumption Reduces Total and LDL Cholesterol: A Randomized, Crossover, Controlled-feeding Trial.”
  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Health Benefits of Plant-derived α-linolenic Acid.”
  • California Walnuts. "History."
  • Diabetes Care. “Beneficial Effect of Pistachio Consumption on Glucose Metabolism, Insulin Resistance, Inflammation, and Related Metabolic Risk Markers: A Randomized Clinical Trial.”
  • Journal of the American College of Nutrition. “Effects of Walnuts on Endothelial Function in Overweight Adults with Visceral Obesity: A Randomized, Controlled, Crossover Trial.”
  • Journal of the American Heart Association. “Effects of Diet Composition and Insulin Resistance Status on Plasma Lipid Levels in a Weight Loss Intervention in Women.”
  • Journal of Nutrition. “A Macadamia Nut-Rich Diet Reduces Total and LDL-Cholesterol in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Men and Women.”
  • Journal of Nutrition. “Almond Consumption during Energy Restriction Lowers Truncal Fat and Blood Pressure in Compliant Overweight or Obese Adults.”
  • Journal of Nutrition. “Walnuts Have Potential for Cancer Prevention and Treatment in Mice.”
  • Lipids. “Macadamia Nut Consumption Modulates Favourably Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease in Hypercholesterolemic Subjects.”
  • Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. “Effect of Almond Supplementation on Glycemia and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Asian Indians in North India with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A 24–Week Study.”
  • Metabolism. “Effects of Pistachios on the Lipid/lipoprotein Profile, Glycemic Control, Inflammation, and Endothelial Function in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Trial.”
  • Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. “Hydro‐ethanolic Extract of Cashew Tree (Anacardium Occidentale) Nut and its Principal Compound, Anacardic Acid, Stimulate Glucose Uptake in C2C12 Muscle Cells.”
  • National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
  • Nutrients. “Walnut Phenolic Extract and Its Bioactive Compounds Suppress Colon Cancer Cell Growth by Regulating Colon Cancer Stemness.”
  • Nutrition Journal. “Effects of Pistachios on Body Weight in Chinese Subjects with Metabolic Syndrome.”
  • Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. “Antioxidant and Anticancer Activities of Walnut (Juglans regia L.) Protein Hydrolysates Using Different Proteases.”
Medically reviewed by Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, on October 31, 2019

Jennifer Bowers, PhD, RD
Jennifer is a doctoral-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with nearly 25 years of experience. For the majority of her career she has focused on health care, disease prevention, and nutrition education for a range of ages—from middle school to graduate school students. In private practice, Dr. Bowers is involved in freelance writing and extracurricular nutrition clubs for children. When not working, she enjoys swimming, running, hiking, biking, camping, cooking, and reading.