Here’s where nuts and seeds fit in.
What counts as a nut?
— Tree nuts, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts.
— Peanuts and peanut butter (though purists would say peanuts are actually legumes, the guidelines count them as nuts).
— Seeds (such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds). Because their nutrient profiles are so similar, they’re considered interchangeable with nuts.
Did you know?
Despite its name, the coconut isn’t considered a true nut, and its meat has only about a gram of protein per ounce.
Why eat them?
Cardiovascular health: The unsaturated fats that nuts contain in abundance are good for your cardiovascular system. The Food and Drug Administration in 2003 ruled that nuts could bear a qualified health claim that eating 1.5 ounces a day may reduce risk of heart disease. And the report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which provides the scientific basis for the 2010 guidelines, notes that unsaturated fatty acids such as those in nuts can lower total cholesterol and LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol.
That full feeling: Nuts’ combination of protein, fiber and fat “keeps you full longer” than many other snack foods, says Maureen Ternus, executive director of the International Tree Nut Council.
Vitamins and minerals: Although most nuts have similar packages of nutrients, Ternus says, “each has its own attributes.” For instance, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, the cardio-friendly fats that are also found in cold-water fish such as salmon, Ternus says, while almonds and hazelnuts are rich in Vitamin E (an antioxidant that may help protect against cell damage and boost immune function). Macadamia nuts have the highest monounsaturated fat content of all nuts, Ternus says, while pistachios and cashews have the lowest overall fat contents. “Choose your favorites and eat a mixture of them,” Ternus advises.
According to the guidelines, a person following a 2,000-calorie diet should aim for about 51
2 ounces of protein foods per day. But nuts, because they’re so high in calories, are counted differently from other protein sources: Colette Rihane, a nutritionist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, explains that a half-ounce of nuts is an “ounce-equivalent” of protein foods. So if you eat a full ounce, that’s two ounce-equivalents, or about a third of the protein you need that day. The guidelines point out that the usual U.S. intake of nuts, seeds and processed soy products is about half an ounce a day.