Nuts get lots of attention...and they deserve it. Healthy fats. Vitamins & minerals. A little plant protein. And talk about taste! The hard part: stopping after a serving.

Here’s our guide to enjoying the best nuts (and seeds). Click here for our Best Bites and Honorable Mentions.

1. Help your heart.

The good news: When you add most nuts to your diet, it helps reduce LDL cholesterol. That should lower your risk of heart disease.

Your best bets are walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and most seeds, rather than macadamias, cashews, or Brazil nuts. (See "Have a Heart," below.)

2. Mix it up.

While almonds are nutrient rich, they’re also heavily advertised. In fact, a cornucopia of nuts and seeds beat almonds for nutrients like calcium (sesame seeds), folate (peanuts), protein (pumpkin seeds), vitamin E (sunflower seeds), fiber (chia seeds), and magnesium (hemp seeds). So play the field.

3. Keep track.

Nuts pack plenty of calories into a tiny bundle. Use our guide to help count out a 1 oz. serving. (See "What's a Serving?" below.) Or use a ¼ cup measure or inexpensive kitchen scale. Shelling your own nuts (like pistachios) may also slow you down.

4. Mind the sodium (it’s easy).

Salted nuts may have less sodium than you’d expect, since it’s just sprinkled on top. But if you’re watching every milligram, varieties that are unsalted (our Best Bites) or “lightly salted” (many Honorable Mentions) abound.

Tip: An ounce of some sunflower seed shells are dusted with a full day’s worth of sodium. Shell them in your hands, not in your mouth. Or buy them shelled.

5. Don’t glaze over.

Our Honorable Mentions have no more than 3 grams (about ½ teaspoon) of added sugars per ounce. That keeps you in honey-roasted or cocoa-dusted territory. Glazed nuts can hit 2 or more teaspoons.

6. Watch clusters, coatings, and “snack” or “breakfast” mixes.

Some of them sully nuts’ good name. Take Planters’s line of Breakfast Blends. The Cinnamon Roll, for example, is anything but “part of a balanced breakfast.” It’s sugary peanuts and almonds plus palm-oil-coated “yogurt” blueberries and mini cookies. So each ounce delivers 3 teaspoons of added sugars—but only 3 grams of protein.

7. Handle with care.

Thanks to all those unsaturated fats, nuts and seeds don’t stay fresh forever. Freeze in a zipper bag or airtight container to extend their life.

And to really bring out their flavor, toast them in the oven at 325° F for 5 to 10 minutes. Just watch them closely. Nuts seem to go from untoasted to burnt in seconds.

Have a heart

While most nuts and seeds have roughly the same amount of fat (about 15 to 20 grams per ounce), the percentage that's saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated varies. Most types should lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol if you eat them instead of meat, cheese, or refined carbs. But nuts with far more (LDL-lowering) poly fat than (LDL-raising) sat fat should do the most good. Brazil nuts, cashews, and macadamias have the least poly vs. sat, so they don't get a Best Bite or Honorable Mention.


What's a serving?

Here's the typical number of nuts in a 1 oz. serving. An ounce of sunflower kernels or shelled pumpkin seeds (not shown) is about 1/4 cup, or roughly 4 level tablespoons.


AlenKadr/ (peanuts), International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (other nuts).

Counting calories

“KIND nut bars have nearly 20% less calories,” the company announced in January. Yet the list of ingredients hadn’t changed.

The new numbers came from studies led by David Baer, supervisory research physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. (Those studies were partly funded by the nut industry.) Baer’s team measured how many calories people digested and absorbed from different nuts versus how many calories went out in their, um, waste.

In two studies, whole almonds averaged 19 to 25 percent fewer calories than what’s listed on most Nutrition Facts labels and in our chart. That works out to about 30 to 40 fewer calories per ounce.1,2

Why? Nuts aren’t just hard to crack; they’re also hard to chew.

“The more you chew, the more you’re grinding up the plant cell walls and making the nutrients inside available for digestion,” says Baer. That also explains why the calories in almond butter were no lower.2 In a sense, it’s already been chewed for you.

Baer got similar results for walnut pieces (21 percent fewer calories) and cashews (16 percent), though not pistachios (5 percent). But those numbers are averages. Some volunteers—presumably champion chewers—absorbed no fewer calories. How well do you chew? Who knows.

Does the same go for other plants, like seeds or beans or corn? No one has looked. Baer is now testing lentils and chickpeas.

But even slimmed-down nuts are still high in calories per bite. Use our “What’s a Serving?” pictures to track your bites.

1Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 96: 296, 2012.
2Food Funct. 7: 4231, 2016.

Go nuts (and seeds)

Don’t add nuts and seeds to your diet. Use them to replace calories from less-healthy foods.

  • Lose the white-flour croutons. Nuts (like walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts) and seeds are crunchier and more flavorful anyway.
  • Amandine, anyone? Instead of breading, try chopped or sliced toasted almonds or pecans on top of chicken, fish, or green beans.
  • Do better than bars. Even the best dried fruit & nut bars (like some of KIND’s) have about a teaspoon of added sugars. Why not pour an ounce of nuts and a few bites of dried fruit (try raisins, figs, or unsweetened mango) into a reusable container instead?
  • Bye bye, bacon. Smoked almonds have more sodium than regular almonds, but they deliver the smoky flavor of bacon. Add them to salads, veggies, etc.
  • Go beyond granola. Old take on a parfait: sugary yogurt plus sugary granola. New take: plain yogurt plus toasted nuts (and fruit).
  • Swap sugary cereal. Add nuts and berries to sugar-free shredded wheat or oatmeal.

Photos: ©AlenKadr/ (peanuts), International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (other nuts).

Illustration: irinapopova/

Graph source: USDA FoodData Central.

"What's a Serving?" sources: International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation, USDA FoodData Central.