The Heart Foundation have recently reviewed the evidence on nuts and seeds and shown us why they’re an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
Benefits of nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds may be small, but they are packed with nutrients. They provide us with fibre, plant protein and healthy fats – which are all beneficial for heart health (1, 2).
Each type of nut and seed contains different vitamins (like folate), minerals (like magnesium and calcium) and phytochemicals, which are needed by our bodies in very small amounts but provide protective effects against heart disease (1, 3-5).
If you eat a range of nuts and seeds, you’re more likely to benefit from all the different nutrients they can provide.
Nuts, seeds and heart disease risk
The Heart Foundation’s latest position statement shows that eating around 15g nuts and seeds per day decreases the risk of coronary heart disease by around 20% compared with no or low nut and seed intakes. This can be achieved by eating 3-4 small handfuls of nuts and seeds each week and there are likely to be further benefits to your heart health if you eat more than this (6).
Regularly eating nuts and seeds within an overall healthy diet has a small benefit on lowering total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. There may also be a small benefit to increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol for those at high risk of cardiovascular disease (6). Nuts and seeds are beneficial for everyone including people at high risk of heart disease.
Will I put on weight if I eat nuts and seeds?
Although nuts and seeds are high in fat, eating them does not cause weight gain.
In large population studies and clinical trials, higher nut intakes were not associated with greater body weight (7-9). In fact, eating nuts is associated with a lower body weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) (7-9).
This is likely due to the rich protein, fat and dietary fibre contained in nuts which help people to feel satisfied after a meal or snack and can reduce your overall food intake (10). Whole nuts also require considerable effort with chewing which also helps to increase satiety (10).
Choosing nuts and seeds
The best foods for your body are whole foods that are close to how they’re found in nature with as little processing as possible. Unsalted nuts and seeds without added flavouring or coatings are the best options for heart health.
When choosing nuts and seeds, look for:
- whole, sliced or ground nuts and seeds
- raw or roasted
- the lowest sodium (salt) per 100g or unsalted
- plain and without flavourings or coatings
- with skins on (only where relevant).
Many nut and seed butters like peanut butter have undergone very little processing and are also an affordable way to get nuts and seeds into your diet. They are a more nutrient-rich option when compared to other spreads like jam or honey.
What do 3-4 handfuls a week look like?
You may not be able to eat nuts and seeds every day but try to include them most days. A small handful is around 30 grams (or one third of a measuring cup). A tablespoon of peanut butter is around 15 grams.
|Monday||1 tbsp of peanut butter on wholegrain toast|
|Tuesday||1 small handful (30g) of mixed nuts as a snack|
|Wednesday||½ tbsp of toasted sesame seeds on a stir-fry|
|Thursday||1 tbsp of chia seeds used to make oat and chia seed pudding|
|Friday||1 tbsp of peanut butter added to a smoothie|
|Saturday||½ tbsp of sunflower seeds sprinkled on top of muesli|
|Sunday||1 tbsp of sliced almonds toasted and sprinkled on top of a salad|
How to include nuts and seeds in your diet
Here are some tips:
- Have a handful of plain, unsalted nuts as a snack. Choose mixed nuts so that you get a variety or rotate the types of nuts you buy.
- Spread peanut butter on toast, crackers, sandwiches or fruit like apples or bananas.
- Lightly toast nuts or seeds and add them to a salad for extra crunch and flavour. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, peanuts and almonds all work well.
- Add nuts and seeds to a stir-fry or pasta dish. Cashews, peanuts and sesame seeds work well in stir-fries and pine nuts and walnuts work well in pasta dishes.
- Add a handful of nuts, seeds or a tablespoon of peanut butter to smoothies, homemade muesli or sprinkled on top of porridge.
- Use peanut butter or tahini to make sauces like satay, dips or salad dressings.
- Use nuts and seeds in baking, e.g. bliss balls, homemade muesli bars, bread, muffins.
What if I have an allergy to nuts or seeds?
All tree nuts, peanuts and seeds can trigger an allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis). Follow the advice of your GP or health professional if you have had a reaction to any type of nut or seed.
Lily Henderson, National Nutrition Advisor, Heart Foundation
Lily is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian and board member of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She is passionate about using the latest evidence to educate kiwis with simple and meaningful lifestyle messages. As a mum of two young children, she understands the daily juggle to achieve a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to food, Lily aims to keep it real and focuses on all the tasty whole foods that nourish your body instead of excluding foods. When Lily isn’t cooking, baking, or thinking about food she is often writing about food. She appreciates a wide range of cuisines but can’t go past a mezze platter loaded with seasonal veg, dips, breads, and cheeses.
1. Ros E (2010). Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2(7):652-82.
2. New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited, Ministry of Health (2018). New Zealand Food Composition Database. Auckland, Wellington.
3. Ros E (2009). Nuts and novel biomarkers of cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 89(5):1649S-56S.
4. Bolling BW et al (2010). The phytochemical composition and antioxidant actions of tree nuts. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 19(1):117-23.
5. Alasalvar C et al (2021). Specialty seeds: Nutrients, bioactives, bioavailability, and health benefits: A comprehensive review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 20(3):2382-427.
7. Nishi et al (2021). Are fatty nuts a weighty concern? A systematic review and meta-analysis and dose-response meta-regression of prospective cohorts and randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 22(11):e13330.
8. Fernández-Rodríguez R et al (2021). The Relationship of Tree Nuts and Peanuts with Adiposity Parameters: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 13(7).
9. Guarneiri LL et al (2021). Intake of Nuts or Nut Products Does Not Lead to Weight Gain, Independent of Dietary Substitution Instructions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. Advances in Nutrition. 12(2):384-401.