Healthy eating / Nuts: the good, the bad and the choices

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NUTS can get good and bad press, depending on the way you look at them.

Clare Wolski
Clare Wolski.

They can be seen as “good snacks” and “great for heart health”, but they are also labelled “fattening”. What are we meant to believe?

Nuts are rich in magnesium, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Sounds pretty good! Nuts are also rich in “good” fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. There is strong evidence that swapping saturated fats (from animal products) with these unsaturated fats, lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises “healthy” HDL cholesterol. Even better!


Like any food that is rich in fat, it is easy to over consume nuts. This is because fat is energy dense, which means it gives us a lot of calories for not a lot of volume.

There are three nutrients that give our body energy – carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

If you were to take one gram of carbohydrate you would get four calories. If you were to take one gram of protein you would get four calories.

On the other hand, fats give us nine calories per gram, which is more than double the others. So, by snacking on several handfuls of nuts throughout the day we may be making a more nutritious choice, but we might also be clocking up a lot more calories. We only need 30g of nuts to meet the recommendations each day.

Ways to include nuts (without overdoing it):

Portion up ¼ cup of nuts with a piece of fruit for a filling and nutrient rich snack

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of diced pecans, cashews or walnuts to some diced fruit and yoghurt for a healthy snack or dessert alternative

Mix them in with salads and vegetables. These are some great combinations:

  • Green beans and almonds.
  • Pumpkin and pecans.
  • Sweet potato and hazelnut.
  • Carrot and walnuts.

Which are the best nuts?

According the many websites and articles, some nuts are better than others. However, while different nuts have different nutrient profiles, no one nut is superior. For instance, these nuts are rich in the following nutrients.

  • Almonds: protein, calcium and vitamin E.
  • Brazil nuts: fibre and selenium.
  • Hazelnuts: fibre, potassium, folate, vitamin E.
  • Macadamias: highest in monounsaturated fats, thiamin and manganese.
  • Pecans: fibre and antioxidants.
  • Pine nuts: vitamin E and the arginine amino acid.
  • Pistachios: protein, potassium, plant sterols and the antioxidant resveratrol.
  • Walnuts: omega 3 fats and antioxidant.

Whatever your preference, enjoy small amounts of nuts on a regular basis and you’ll be getting the best balance.

Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub, call 6174 4663.

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