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Nuts are a healthy addition to any diet and may impart important health benefits, important nutrients and a good balance of fat for reduction of cardiovascular disease risk.

Nutritional information

Each variety of nut is high in plant based protein and fiber but has its own combination of vitamins and minerals.  Nuts are a good source of plant sterols and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In fact, they are so healthy that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a qualified health claim for them. The claim states: "Eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease".

  • Almonds are a source of vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, and magnesium. They are a very versatile ingredient that can be used whole, sliced or slivered, as paste, flour, or almond butter. In addition to being eaten as a snack, almonds are good in both sweet and savory dishes.
Nuts (1), illustration
Nuts (1), illustration
  • Brazil nuts are from wild trees in the Amazon rainforest. Most contain large amounts of selenium, an important antioxidant nutrient, at levels greater than the daily requirement in a 1 ounce portion. The creamy texture of Brazil nuts is due to their high fat content and makes them great for snacking and use in confectionary products.
  • Cashews are native to South America. They are an excellent source of copper and magnesium. The cashew nut is a popular snack, and its rich flavor means that it is often eaten roasted, on its own, lightly salted or sugared, or covered in chocolate. Cashew nut butter is a tasty substitution for peanut butter.
  • Hazelnuts are also known as filberts due to the major flavor compound in them called filbertone. These nuts are rich in monounsaturated fat and an excellent source of vitamin E, copper and magnesium. Hazelnuts are used in confectionery products like candies and cookies (especially in Europe), and in some hazelnut paste products (such as Nutella).
Nuts (2), illustration
Nuts (2), illustration
  • Macadamia nuts are native to the subtropical region of Australia but we think of them as Hawaiian because they are now grown there. They contain high levels of monounsaturated fat and are an excellent source of magnesium. These nuts have a unique flavor that makes them good alone as a snack or when baked into cookies.
  • Peanuts are classified as a nut by the FDA although they are actually legumes. Peanuts are rich in niacin, fiber and magnesium, and they contain more protein than any other FDA-classified nut. They are eaten boiled or roasted and are commonly consumed as peanut butter.  Many people have peanut allergies and need to avoid them.
  • Pecans are native to North America and the US produces 80-95% of the world supply. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, vitamin E and minerals. Pecans have a sweet, mellow flavor and a meaty texture that lends well to use in a variety of dishes. They are well known for their use in pralines and pies but also make a great addition to salads and pasta dishes.
  • Pistachios are native to the Middle East but are currently grown in the US, particularly in California. In addition to their fat and protein content, pistachios contain the antioxidants lutein and zeazanthine which give them their green color. They are known for use in popular Middle Eastern pastries, such as baklava but are a snack item as well.
  • Walnuts are rich in the Vitamin E, an antioxidant, and unlike other nuts, contain predominantly polyunsaturated fat. They are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); the plant based omega-3 fatty acid. Research on the heart health benefits of walnuts has led the European Union to allow a specific health claim: "Walnuts contribute to the improvement of the elasticity of the blood vessels." Walnuts have a crisp light texture and they blend well with other flavors. They are excellent when used in baked goods, candies, salads and in pasta dishes.

Each nut variety has its own unique taste and texture, allowing for a whole range of culinary uses. Because of the high fat content they may become rancid if stored too long at room temperature. Solutions to this are to either buy small quantities to use quickly or store them in the freezer for long term use.

To get all of the health benefits without going overboard on calorie intake, mind your portion size. A serving of nuts is one ounce or about a small handful. Although the calorie content depends on the variety, on average this provides 150-200 calories per serving which is similar to that provided by a portion of less nutritious snack chips.

The addition of nuts to your diet is a good way to improve your nutrient intake and possible confer health benefits. The nutrients found in nuts, such as Vitamin E, and the alpha-linolenic acid of walnuts, are widely under consumed in the American diet.  It is a simple switch to use nuts to replace other high calorie, nutrient poor foods such as chips. A change such as this will provide more balanced nutrition and is a tasty way to add variety to your diet.

Glossary of nuts

  • Acorn (Quercus, Lithocarpus and Cyclobalanopsis spp.), used from ancient times among indigenous peoples of the Americas as a staple food, in particular for making bread and porridge.
  • Afghan hazelnut (Hircum nuces), a delicacy among the native peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Beech (Fagus spp.) American beech (Fagus grandifolia), used by indigenous peoples of the Americas as food. Several tribes sought stores of beech nuts gathered by chipmunks and deer mice, thus obtaining nuts that were already sorted and shelled.
  • European beech (Fagus sylvatica), although edible, have never been popular as a source of food. They have been used as animal feed and to extract a popular edible oil.
  • Breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum), used by the ancient Maya peoples as animal fodder, and as an alternative food when yield of other crops was insufficient.
  • Candlenut (Aleurites moluccana), used in many South East Asian cuisines.
  • Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollissima), have been eaten in China since ancient times.
  • Sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa), unlike most nuts, are high in starch and sugar. Extensively grown in Europe and the Himalayas.
  • Hazelnuts (Corylus spp.), most commercial varieties of which descend from the European hazelnut (Corylus avellana). Hazelnuts are used to make pralines, in the popular Nutella spread, in liqueurs, and in many other foods.
  • American hazelnut (Corylus americana), appealing for breeding because of its relative hardiness.
  • Deeknut (Corylus Dikana), grows in hot, excessively dry areas. An occasional garnish used in middle-eastern dishes.
  • Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), native to the United States.
  • Filbert (Corylus maxima), commonly used as "filler" in mixed nut combinations.
  • Karuka (Pandanus spp.), native to Papua New Guinea. Both the planted and wild species are eaten raw, roasted or boiled, providing food security when other foods are less available.
  • Planted karuka (Pandanus julianettii), cultivated species, planted by roughly half the rural population of Papua New Guinea.
  • Wild karuka (Pandanus brosimos), important food source in villages at higher altitudes in New Guinea.
  • Kola nut (Cola spp.), from a West African relative of the cocoa tree, is the origin of the cola flavor in soft drinks.
  • Kurrajong (Brachychiton spp.), native to Australia, highly regarded as a bush food among northern Indigenous Australians.
  • Malabar chestnut (Pachira aquatica), have a taste reminiscent of peanuts when raw, and of cashews or European chestnuts (which they strongly resemble) when roasted.
  • Mongongo (Ricinodendron rautanenii), abundant source of protein among Bushmen in the Kalahari desert. Also of interest as a source of oil for skin care.
  • Palm nuts (Elaeis guineensis), important famine food among the Himba people in Africa.
  • Red bopple nut (Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia), native to the east coast of Australia. Low in fat, high in calcium and potassium. Eaten as bush food. Considered similar, but inferior to the macadamia.
  • Yellow walnut (Beilschmiedia bancroftii), native to Australia where it served as a staple food among Indigenous Australians.
  • Drupe seeds A drupe is a fleshy fruit surrounding a stone, or pit, containing a seed. Some of these seeds are culinary nuts as well.
  • Almonds (Prunus dulcis) have a long and important history of religious, social and cultural significance as a food. Speculated to have originated as a natural hybrid in Central Asia, almonds spread throughout the Middle East in ancient times and thence to Eurasia. The almond is one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.
  • Apricot kernels are sometimes used as an almond substitute, an Apricot seed derived ersatz-Marzipan is known as "Persipan" in German and is extensively used in foods like Stollen.
  • Australian cashew nut (Semecarpus australiensis) is a source of food for Indigenous Australians of north-eastern Queensland and Australia's Northern Territory.
  • Betel nuts (Areca catechu) are chewed in many cultures as a psychoactive drug. They are also used in Indian cuisine to make sweet after-dinner treats (mukwas) and breath-fresheners (paan masala).
  • Borneo tallow nuts (Shorea spp.) are grown in the tropical rain forests of South East Asia, as a source of edible oil. Canarium spp.
  • Canarium nut (Canarium harveyi, Canarium indicum, or Canarium commune) has long been an important food source in Melanesia.
  • Chinese olive (Canarium album) pits are processed before use as an ingredient in Chinese cooking.
  • Pili nuts (Canarium ovatum) are native to the Philippines, where they have been cultivated for food from ancient times.
  • Cashews (Anacardium occidentale) grow as a drupe that is attached to the cashew apple, the fruit of the cashew tree. Native to northeastern Brazil, the cashew was introduced to India and East Africa in the sixteenth century, where they remain a major commercial crop. The nut must be roasted (or steamed) to remove the caustic shell oil before being consumed.
  • Chilean hazel (Gevuina avellana), from an evergreen native to South America, similar in appearance and taste to the hazelnut.
  • Coconut (Cocos nucifera), used worldwide as a food. The fleshy part of the seed is edible, and used either desiccated or fresh as an ingredient in many foods. The pressed oil from the coconut is used in cooking as well.
  • Gabon nut (Coula edulis) has a taste comparable to hazelnut or chestnut. It is eaten raw, grilled or boiled.
  • Mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa), named after the heavy hammer (moker in Dutch) required to crack the heavy shell and remove the tasty nutmeat.
  • Pecans (Carya illinoinensis) are the only major nut tree native to North America. Pecans are eaten as a snack food, and used as an ingredient in baking and other food preparation.
  • Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) has over 130 named cultivars. They are a valuable source of food for wildlife, and were eaten by indigenous peoples of the Americas and settlers alike.
  • Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) nuts are sweet, and are the largest of the hickories. They are also eaten by a wide variety of wildlife.Irvingia spp. are native to Africa
  • Bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis) has both edible fruit and an edible nut, which is used as a thickening agent in stews and soups in West African cuisines.
  • Ogbono nut (Irvingia wombolu) is similar to the bush mango, but the fruit is not edible.
  • Jack nuts (Artocarpus heterophyllus) are the seeds of the jack fruit. With a taste like chestnuts, they have an extremely low fat content of less than 1%.
  • Bread Nuts (Artocarpus camansi) similarly have a chesnut taste and very low fat content
  • Panda oleosa is used in Gabon in a similar way to bush mango nuts, as well as to extract an edible oil.
  • Pekea nut, or butter-nut of Guiana (Caryocar nuciferum), harvested locally for its highly prized edible oil.
  • Pistachio (Pistacia vera L.), cultivated for thousands of years, native to West Asia. It is one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.
  • Black walnut (Juglans nigra), also popular as food for wildlife, with an appealing, distinctive flavor. Native of North America.
  • Butternut (Juglans cinerea) (or white walnut) is native to North America. Used extensively, in the past, by Native American tribes as food.
  • English walnut (Juglans regia) (or Persian walnut) was introduced to California around 1770. California now represents 99% of US walnut growth. It is often combined with salads, vegetables, fruits or desserts because of its distinctive taste.
  • Heartnut, or Japanese walnut (Juglans aitlanthifolia), native to Japan, with a characteristic cordate shape. Heartnuts are often toasted or baked, and can be used as a substitute for English walnuts.

Nut-like gymnosperm seeds

  • Pine nuts, in the husk, and separated. Pine nuts are edible gymnosperm seeds.
  • Gymnosperm, from the Greek gymnospermos (γυμνόσπερμος), meaning "naked seed", is a seed that does not have an enclosure. The following gymnosperms are culinary nuts. All but the ginkgo nut are from evergreens.
  • Burrawang nut (Macrozamia communis), a major source of starch for Indigenous Australians around Sydney.
  • Ginkgo nuts (Ginkgo biloba) are a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. They are starchy, low in fat, protein and calories, but high in vitamin C.
  • Bunya nut (Araucaria bidwillii) is native to Queensland, Australia. Nuts are the size of walnuts, and rich in starch.
  • Monkey-puzzle nut (Araucaria araucana) has nuts twice the size of almonds. Rich in starch. Roasted, boiled, eaten raw, or fermented in Chile and Argentina.
  • Paraná pine nut (Araucaria angustifolia) (or Brazil pine nut) is an edible seed similar to pine nuts.
  • Pine nuts (Pinus spp.) Pine nuts can be toasted and added to salads and are used as an ingredient in pesto, among other regional uses.
  • Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana), common in Central Asia. Nuts are used raw, roasted or in confectionery products.
  • Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis), in great demand as an edible nut, with average annual production of 454 to 900 tonnes.
  • Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis), a pine-nut yielding species native to Asia.
  • Mexican pinyon (Pinus cembroides), found in Mexico and Arizona. Nuts are eaten raw, roasted, or made into flour.
  • Single-leaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) grows in foothills from Mexico to Idaho. Eaten as other pine nuts. Also sometimes ground and made into pancakes.
  • Stone pine, Also called pignolia nut (Pinus pinea) is the most commercially important pine nut.

Nut-like angiosperm seeds

  • Macadamia nuts are edible angiosperm seeds. These culinary nuts are seeds contained within a larger fruit.
  • Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) are harvested from an estimated 250,000–400,000 trees per year. Highly valued edible nut used in the confectionery and baking trades. Excellent dietary source of selenium.
  • Macadamia (Macadamia spp.) are primarily produced in Hawaii and Australia. Both species are native to Australia. They are a highly valued edible nut. Waste nuts are commonly used to extract an edible oil.
  • Macadamia nut (Macadamia tetraphylla) has a rough shell, and is the subject of some commercialization.
  • Paradise nut (Lecythis usitata), native to the Amazon rain forest, highly regarded by indigenous tribal people.
  • Peanut, or groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), originally from South America, has grown from a relatively minor crop to one of the most important commercial nut crops, in part due to the work of George Washington Carver at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Peanut tree (Sterculia quadrifida) or bush peanut, native to Australia. One of the tastiest native nuts. Requires no preparation.
  • Soybeans (Glycine max) are used as a nut, in addition to their use as oil seeds.

Nutritional information on Nuts

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