Feb 10, 2011 | By Catherine Cox
Most nuts are a good source of protein and are low in saturated fat; the amounts vary among nuts. Though nuts are high in total fat, it comes from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats because they are healthier for your heart. Limit total fat to no more than 30 percent of daily calories and saturated fat to no more than 7 percent. On a 2,000-calorie diet, this would be 67 g total fat and 15 g saturated fat.
Nuts and Heart Health
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, regular intake of nuts – one ounce at least five times a week – may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Adding nuts to a diet that is low in saturated fat can lower total and LDL cholesterol levels and may decrease inflammation. Nuts are good sources of vitamin E and other antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage. Most are also good sources of fiber, which helps improve cholesterol. Because nuts are high in calories, substitute them for other less healthy snacks to curtail weight gain.
Protein and Saturated Fat
Among the true nuts, almonds, pistachios and sunflower seeds have the highest amount of protein compared to saturated fat. Per 1-oz. serving, they each provide 6 g protein; almonds contain 1 g saturated and 15 g total fat, pistachios, 1.5 g saturated and 12.5 g total fat, sunflower seeds, 1.5 g saturated and 14 g total fat. Walnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts each provide 4 g protein and 1.5 g saturated fat. The total fat content is 18 g for walnuts, 17.5 g for hazelnuts and 19.5 g for pine nuts. Cashews and Brazil nuts also have 4 g protein but with higher saturated fat contents. Cashews contain 2.5 g saturated and 13 g total fat while Brazil nuts have 4.5 g saturated and 19 g total fat. Pecans and macadamia nuts are lower in protein and have a total fat content that makes them higher in calories compared to other nuts. Pecans have 2.5 g protein, 2 g saturated and 21 g total fat, while macadamia nuts have only 2 g protein, 3.5 g saturated and 21.5 g total fat.
Walnuts stand out from other nuts because they are particularly high in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, or alpha linolenic acid. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that control blood clotting and help form cell membranes in the brain. ALA protects your heart by reducing plaque build-up and inflammation, lowering risk of heart attack and heart disease death and decreasing rhythm problems. Aim for at least 1.6 g ALA daily if you are a man and 1.1 g ALA if you are a woman. Just one tablespoon of walnuts contains 2.6 g ALA, according to the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Other nuts are not significant sources of ALA.
Soy Nuts and Peanuts
Soy nuts and peanuts are technically legumes but they have nutrient profiles and health benefits that are similar to those of nuts. Soy nuts are even higher in protein and lower in fat and calories. A 1-oz. serving provides 11 g protein, less than 1 g saturated and 6 g total fat. The protein is a higher quality protein, compared to tree nuts, based on its amino acid profile. Also, soy nuts contain 0.6 g ALA in ¼ cup. Peanuts provide 6.5 g protein, 2 g saturated and 14 g total fat per ounce.