By Ruth Ann Clayton, RD

Nuts have had an undeserved bad reputation. For years we have avoided eating nuts thinking they would make us gain weight. Many Dietitians even told us to avoid them. However, current research suggests nuts contain a powerhouse of nutrients that should be embraced.

Nuts are defined as edible meats or kernels found inside of a hard or tough shell, rind or pod from a tree or shrub. They are simply fruits in a hard shell. Often they are called tree nuts. Peanuts are actually a legume but sometimes included in the nut food group.

In 2003 the Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim for most nuts stating: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Nuts included in the claim are almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, pistachios, and walnuts.

Clinical and epidemiological research has found many health benefits of nuts including fighting diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, hypertension and depression.

The role in fighting the risk of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes may be due to their high fiber content and low glycemic index resulting in lowered blood glucose when consumed.

Nuts are referred to as brain fuel. Evidence is leaning to a role in cognitive function with a protective affect on the aging brain, especially from walnuts. Nuts provide amino acids that fuel the brain’s neurotransmitters and magnesium and B-vitamins that support blood flow and brain function. Additionally, walnuts are high in the omega 3 heart healthy fat alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and vitamin E. Ever notice the brain shape of a walnut? Could this be a reminder from Mother Nature?

The cardio protection offered by nuts is accredited to their being cholesterol free and containing primarily the healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated type fats. Monounsaturated fats have been shown to lower LDL, the bad cholesterol, and improve serum lipids. The nuts with the lowest saturated (bad) fat content are hazelnuts, almonds and chestnuts.

All nuts are a concentrated source of vegetable protein. Most nuts contain significant fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin E. Calcium, iron, copper and phosphorus, and much needed trace minerals such as manganese are plentiful. Other phyto-chemicals in nuts provide flavonoids, antioxidants and antiflammatory nutrients. Put this all together and nuts become superstars in the food world.

As you can tell, nuts are a treasure trove of nutrients. Yet different types provide different benefits. Almonds supply vitamin E and magnesium. Walnuts are a source of melatonin and Brazil nuts provide the perfect source of selenium for your thyroid. Cashews supply the amino acid tryptophan and lower fat hazelnuts supply a good source of folate. Pecans contain the same healthy oleic fatty acid found in avocadoes and olives. Pistachios are rich in vitamin B6 and are the only nut with reasonable amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin for eye protection. Peanuts, though not a true nut, can boost your protein. And there is much more. The list of benefits is extensive.

Eat a variety of energy dense nuts in moderation. A golf ball size serving or approximately 1-1.5 oz per day will provide you with benefits replacing chips and other non-nutritive snacks. Eating them raw is best. Avoid them if covered in chocolate, sugar and salt and they won’t be fattening. Enjoy them in nut butters, added to salads, side dishes, pilafs, cereals, breads, baked goods and stir-fries. The best thing – these healthy and nutritious snacks are portable so you can “go nutty about your diet” at anytime.

Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way. Reach her at This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.

As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.