I’m confused – are nuts a healthy snack?
BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:
With the festive season looming, many of us will be tempted by nuts more often than usual, whether they’re nibbles at a party or a bowlful of nuts in their shells.
Nuts have a high fat content, so are high in energy. In most nuts this is mainly unsaturated fat: either polyunsaturated fats in walnuts and pine nuts, or monounsaturated fats in almonds, pistachios, pecans and hazelnuts, for example.
Brazil nuts, cashews and macadamia nuts are higher in saturated fat. Too much of this can contribute to raised cholesterol levels, so only eat them occasionally. Chestnuts are an exception – they’re lower in all types of fats and higher in starchy carbohydrate than other nuts.
As a substitute for foods high in saturated fat and sugar (such as biscuits, chocolates or cakes), nuts can be a good choice. The high protein and fibre content makes them a satisfying snack and they contain nutrients such as vitamin E, potassium and magnesium. But watch your portion sizes.
With the festive season... many of us will be tempted by nuts
A portion of nuts is 30g (a small, cupped handful) which is about 175kcal. If you find this hard to stick to once a packet is open, buy nuts you have to shell yourself. Having to crack them takes more time so you may eat fewer. Shell-on nuts are also generally unsalted (pistachios are an exception).
Try to avoid dry-roasted, salted, flavoured or honey-roasted nuts, which come with extra salt and sometimes sugar too. If you’re at a party, remember that nuts are often salted, which may make you feel thirsty and encourage you to consume more alcohol.
Plain nuts are healthier, but they don’t have to be boring. Dry frying or toasting nuts in the oven gives them a stronger flavour – particularly for almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. Try adding spices like Chinese five-spice, paprika or cayenne pepper. For a sweeter flavour, try cinnamon or vanilla extract.
If you keep an eye on portion sizes and avoid unhealthy additions like salt and sugar, nuts can be a healthy choice between or with your meals.
Meet the expert
Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.