Nutritional Value of Nuts and Seeds

Benefits and Drawbacks You Should Know About

Mixed Nuts In a Wooden Bowl

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If you are watching your calories or carbohydrate intake, it's helpful to know the nutritional facts about the nuts and seeds you are eating. This includes not only the calories you consume per ounce but things like the total carbs (carbohydrates plus fiber and sugar), net carbs (carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar), total dietary fiber, and fats.

Fats are further broken down into "bad" saturated fats, "good' monounsaturated fats, and beneficial polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

Nutritional Value Per Ounce

Benefits

In addition to containing healthy fats and fiber, most nuts and seeds are packed with magnesium, calcium, protein, and phytonutrients. This makes sense given that that nuts and seeds are meant to provide nourishment to a seedling until it is able to sprout and grow on its own. As an added bonus, most nuts and seeds are fairly low in carbohydrates.

Among some of the other key benefits:

  • Nuts and seeds are loaded with antioxidants. The antioxidants known as the polyphenol in nuts and seed help neutralize free radicals so they can't harm cells in your body.
  • Nuts and seeds help lower cholesterol. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help transport excess cholesterol to the liver, where they can be excreted from the body in stool.
  • Nuts and seeds can help control diabetes. Because they are low in carbs, they less likely to trigger spikes in blood sugar level, making them the ideal snack for people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Nuts and seeds have anti-inflammatory properties. This is especially true of brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds, all of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. This may be especially useful for people with diabetes, arthritis, or kidney disease.
  • Nuts and seeds can aid in digestion. This is because they are high in soluble fiber, the type that can absorb water in the intestines to soften stools.
  • Nuts are great for a low-carb diet. These especially include brazil nuts, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, peanuts, and hazelnuts.

    Nuts and Seeds in Low-Carb Diets

    Nuts and seeds a good choice for most low-carb diets because they are fairly low in carbohydrates and are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Moreover, you tend to get filled up on them relatively quickly, meaning that you are less prone to overeating.

    However, not all nuts or seeds were created the same. Many can inadvertently hold you back from achieving ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body, deprived of carbs, starts burning fat instead.

    This is because nuts and seeds are mainly fat, in some cases up to 85 percent fat, so a simple handful of macadamia nuts or walnuts can easily set you back by 500 calories (or roughly a fifth to a quarter of the recommended adult caloric intake). Nuts also contain phytic acids that can inhibit the absorption of calcium, zinc, and iron.

    If embarking on a strict ketogenic diet, opt for almonds, flax seeds, macadamia nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, or walnuts, but eat them in moderation. Avoid cashews, chestnuts, chia seed, and pistachios that are far higher in carbohydrates.

    Nut Allergies

    You can't really talk about nuts today without mentioning nut allergies. While much of the focus has been placed on peanuts, allergies are also associated with tree nuts. Today, more than three million Americans report having an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, or both, according to statistics from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). That number only seems to be rising.

    Nut allergies tend to affect children more than adults. While as many as 20 percent will outgrow their allergies, those who experience allergy symptoms early are more likely to remain allergic for a lifetime. Some allergies can even be life-threatening, leading to a whole-body allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

    Despite these grave concerns, a 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that children at high risk of developing a peanut allergy are far less likely to develop one if introduced to peanuts before the age of 12 months.

    In fact, doing so decreased the risk of a peanut allergy by age five from 13.7 percent in children who avoided nuts to 1.9 percent in infants exposed to peanuts before their first birthday.

    Dietary Considerations

    While there is little one can say to detract from the benefits of nuts and seeds, there are considerations you need to make when incorporating them into your diet.

    With dried coconut, for example, you are consuming high amounts of saturated fat, the type that can clog arteries. While occasionally eating an ounce of dried coconut won't cause you any harm, people at risk of heart disease are advised not to eat more than 16 grams of saturated fat per day, according to the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That is only one ounce of dried coconut.

    Similarly, while raw nuts are excellent sources of nutrition, those that are roasted may be less so. This is because roasting can damage the healthy fats in nuts and lead to the formation of a harmful substance called acrylamide (which some studies have linked to liver cancer).

    Moreover, some commercially produced nuts are roasted in oil before being sprinkled with flavorings or dipped in a sugary coating. While tasty, these processes largely undermine the nutritional benefits of the nuts.

    Nut butters, another excellent source of nut protein, is often packed with salt, sugar, stabilizers, and vegetable oil. Even if you opt for a natural nut butter (or make your own), they are so energy dense that it can be easy to eat excessive amounts and undermine a low-fat, low-carb diet. 

    A Word From Verywell

    To ensure the best quality, always store nuts and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer so that the oils don't go rancid. Nuts and seeds with high levels of polyunsaturated fats are especially prone to spoilage, as are those that are either chopped, broken, sliced, or ground into meal.

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