The Best Type Of Nuts For Snacking, Depending On Your Health Goals

Whether your priority is blood sugar management, women's health or brain health, there's a nut for you.
All that's missing is Allan Sherman.
FotografiaBasica via Getty Images
All that's missing is Allan Sherman.

We all know that chips and candy bars aren’t the healthiest snacks, but you can upgrade to a snack that helps prevent a number of chronic health problems. When you need a packable, munchable food to carry you through between meals, nuts and seeds are a perfect choice, loaded with fibre, good fats and protein.

Still, you’ve probably heard various caveats about certain nuts ― that cashews are bad for us, for example, while almonds are better. Is that really true? We asked some nutrition experts which unsalted nuts and seeds are their top picks for nutrient-rich, nourishing snacks.

The best options for women’s health

“Pumpkin seeds contain a composition of nutrients that are particularly supportive of women’s health. The pumpkin seeds have a notably greater amount of magnesium compared to the other options. Magnesium is a mineral that is particularly important for the prevention of osteoporosis in women.

“The pumpkin seeds also have a good amount of zinc content. Zinc plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle by participating in the synthesis, storage and release of reproductive hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Zinc is also important during pregnancy due to its role in DNA synthesis, which is a foundational physiological process for fetal development.

“[Another good pick is] Brazil nuts due to their selenium content ... which is an important hormone for menstrual regularity. I also love recommending Brazil nuts to clients because you can meet your daily selenium needs by eating just two nuts a day.” — Claire Rifkin, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Claire Rifkin Nutrition

"The act of shelling pistachios can help instill mindfulness in our eating,” registered dietitian Toby Smithson says.
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"The act of shelling pistachios can help instill mindfulness in our eating,” registered dietitian Toby Smithson says.

The best nuts for blood sugar management

“Pistachios check all the boxes. Pistachios are high in fiber and protein (which help with blood sugar management), are lowest in calories per ounce (which helps with weight management) and the act of shelling pistachios can help instill mindfulness in our eating.” — Toby Smithson, registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, and founder of Diabetes Every Day

“Hazelnuts contain a good amount of vitamin B6, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, which play an important role in energy metabolism as well as immunity and blood pressure. They’re also an excellent source of healthy fats, which can help reduce cholesterol levels and also improve inflammatory markers. Some research also shows that oleic acid, which is abundant in these nuts, can have a beneficial impact on insulin sensitivity, which improves blood sugar metabolism and reduces the risk of diabetes.” — Megan Hilbert, registered dietitian nutritionist specialising in gut health nutrition, IBS, intuitive eating, gentle nutrition and the gut-brain axis

The best nuts for heart health

“I once worked for a cardiologist who would write prescriptions for his patients suffering from high blood pressure to eat 1/4 cup of almonds every day. Almonds can help to control blood pressure because they are high in the amino acid arginine. Arginine is needed to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes arterial blood vessels which in turn reduces blood pressure.

“Walnuts have cardiometabolic protective benefits. They have been shown, when consumed as part of a balanced, whole-food diet, to reduce blood cholesterol levels. They are rich in the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA). One quarter-cup serving of this nut can meet our daily need of this essential fatty acid.” — Tami Best, registered dietitian

“Pecans are a great source of healthy fats and fiber. They can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol due to the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Pecans are also a great source of vitamin A, vitamin E and folic acid.” — Pelitera

Walnuts even look a little like brains. Kinda.
ermingut via Getty Images
Walnuts even look a little like brains. Kinda.

The best nuts for brain health

“Walnuts are rich in anti-inflammatory fats, reducing neuro-inflammation and helping to support mental health and well-being and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Amyloid plagues found in the brain of all people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to increase oxidative damage to neurons and promote inflammation. Because walnuts are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory fats, they have potential to have a neuro-protective benefit.” — Best

There’s also a case for mixed nuts

“Mixed nuts contain a good amount of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation levels. Most Americans do not get enough omega-3s in their diet, which can cause an imbalance in their omega-2 to omega-6 ratio, and a diet with a higher omega-6 ratio has been linked with higher rates of heart disease.

“Magnesium is something that 50-80% of Americans fail to get enough of and these nuts contain almost 20% of our daily value in just one serving. Magnesium plays an important role in sleep, stress management, mood and more.

“Mixed nuts also contain more than enough selenium to fill our daily requirement ― 170% of the DV in fact! Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress, which is known to reduce the impacts of premature aging, stroke, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.” — Bakovic

Just remember that it’s all about portions

“Unless you’re on a weight-loss drug, nuts are easy to overeat — they taste so good. I pre-portion in a little ramekin to curb over-indulging, and bring to my desk and savour each as I work. Lately I’ve been buying cashews at Costco that are roasted with just a touch of sugar, and combine them with other plain (unsalted) nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds) and it’s an indulgent plant-based snack.” — Barbara Ruhs, registered dietitian and owner of the food marketing consultancy