Raw nuts are one of the best go-to snack foods because they’re flavorful, simple to pack, they don’t necessarily have to be cooked, and they easily mix with a variety of other foods. Their nutritional content, too, is impressive: They’re high in protein and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, or "good fats," which can help reduce total and LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels in the blood while maintaining "good" cholesterol, or HDL.
So how many nuts actually make for a healthy serving? You'd be surprised, as the number varies from nut to nut. But instead of worrying about overdoing it—because it's much healthier to munch on some satisfying trail mix than to wolf down a disappointing, nutritionally-void snack—we're focusing on the health benefits of six common tree nuts, and all the exciting ways they can be combined.
One (1oz) serving of pistachios equals 49 kernels and roughly 160 calories.
Pistachios are one of the best nut sources for potassium and vitamin K, which help maintain blood pressure and aid in the regulation of bone metabolism and blood clotting, respectively. Their high fiber content may also help reduce cholesterol levels. And they're so flavorful that you’ll see them in everything, as a crushed-up crust on meats and poultry, as the basis for pistachio-flavored ice cream, and as a satisfying garnish on a rich cauliflower soup or parmesan kale salad. Along with their sweet flavor profile, their shape, size, and texture make them perfect accompaniments to dried fruits like goji berries and banana chips and larger tree nuts like macadamias and cashews—and wasabi peas, too.
A single, one-ounce serving of almonds is 24 nuts and 160 calories.
While they're very high in protein (6 grams per serving), almonds are also a great source of magnesium, an essential mineral for bone health and a healthy metabolism. They’re also one of the best dietary sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which promotes eye health and helps prevent inflammation.
Arguably the most versatile nut around, almonds are packed into virtually every healthful snack, cereal, granola, baked good, and dinner menu option. Whether enjoyed blanched, roasted, sliced, ground up into almond flour for baking, or poured as milk into your favorite beverages, the almond's mild flavor and healthy nutritional profile also make it a healthy addition to green salads, vegetarian dishes, and baked goods. And who doesn't love a slice of toast spread with some creamy almond butter? Or a crunchy dark chocolate bar fortified with chopped almonds? Psst: Now there's even almond wine.
One (1oz) serving of pecans, or roughly 15 to 19 halves, contains 200 calories.
Although pecans are somewhat lower in protein than most other tree nuts (3 grams per serving), they have the highest (healthy) monounsaturated fat content out of all the nuts out there. (The "good fat," at 21 grams). And contrary to what you might think, they're not just for dessert.
Their rich, slightly sweet flavor is the perfect complement to grain-based salads and Thanksgiving soups—and pecans also make a delicious spicy-savory snack. A heart-healthy option with 3 grams of fiber per serving, pecans are also loaded with antioxidants, such as flavonoids (diets high in flavonoids help combat heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and cognitive decline) as well as zinc, which helps lower the risk of age- and lifestyle-related diseases and boost immune efficiency.
Eighteen whole cashews equal one (1oz) serving, and 157 calories.
Softer than most tree nuts, cashews have an undeniable buttery taste and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat content (13 grams per serving) that lends itself well to many vegan “cheeses” and sauces. They're an excellent source of protein, too, with just over 5 grams per serving, rivaling that of the almond.
They're also chock-full of the heart-healthy fatty acids, oleic and palmitoleic acids, which are monounsaturated fats that have both been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, just one serving of cashews provides 69% of our recommended daily intake for copper, a mineral that promotes healthy immune system function and helps the body absorb iron, an essential element in converting our food's nutrients into energy.
Cashews can be whirred into fruit smoothies, blended into a thick (vegan) butter, their milk is delicious in lattes, and they're great atop green salads. They're also staples in curry stir-fries, and even form the basis of a decadent vegetarian alfredo pasta.
One (1oz) serving of walnuts, or about 14 halves, is approximately 185 calories.
Full of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, the buttery walnut is delicious in its raw state, when folded into brownies and other baked goods, and toasted and then tossed into a delicious warm carrot salad; it's also a staple in high-protein vegetarian meals. Walnut oil, too, can be used to flavor salads, to dress fish and beef dishes, and to drizzle over pasta.
Of particular note is the walnut's high concentration of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which each contribute to brain health and functioning. (Omega-3 has even been linked to the creation of neurons.) Walnuts can actually be powerful allies in preventing neurogenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease—and studies have also shown that the omega-3s in walnuts play a positive role in certain mood disorders (such as major depression and bipolar disorder) via their potent anti-inflammatory properties.
There are roughly 12 whole kernels, and 178 calories, in one (1oz) serving of hazelnuts, aka filberts.
Like the other nuts on this list, hazelnuts also contain monounsaturated "good fats." The major fatty acids found within these nuts are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as the good-for-you, oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that has been shown to reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Hazelnuts are the best tree nut source of folate, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and is essential for prenatal health.
Because hazelnut oil's makeup is similar to that of olive oil, it has many of the same health benefits. Likewise, it's a healthy olive-oil substitute. Throw some hazelnuts into a trail mix with larger nuts like pecans or walnuts, sprinkle them into a fennel-and-pear make-ahead salad, or process them into a fresh pesto. Ina Garten's toasted-hazelnut and haricot verts dish makes for a memorable Thanksgiving side dish, too.