Which nuts are healthiest? 6 of the best with benefits

Let’s roast the myths! Not only are nuts less fattening than once feared, research shows they can cut the risk of heart disease too.

Many of us avoid eating nuts because they’re high in fat and calories (especially if we’re trying to eat healthily), but latest research shows they’re so good for cardiovascular health that we should be having a small handful daily.

Researchers at the University of Oslo and the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, have reviewed 60 studies involving 1.9 million participants and found those who ate 30g daily – in particular walnuts, almonds and pistachios – were 19% less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and 23% less likely to die from it.

Even the idea that nuts are fattening is a dated one. “A lot of the worry came about in the 1980s when diets cut out every type of fat,” says Rohini Bajekal, nutritionist with Plant-Based Health Professionals UK.

A selection of nuts in bowls on a tableCredit: Shutterstock / neil langan

“We now know that the mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts are associated with good health. It’s true they are composed of between 50% and 80% fat, but several studies have shown that regularly eating nuts helps maintain a healthy weight.”

Why? “Eating nuts displaces other ultra-processed snacks,” she explains. “Chewing them takes time so you don’t consume as many, plus their high fibre and protein content keeps you fuller for longer. Unless nuts are ground or chewed completely, about 30% of the fat and calories pass through the gut undigested.” 

In the UK we eat 6g of nuts a day, rather than the recommended 30g. But there are caveats.  “I’d suggest mixed nuts rather than a portion of macadamias, which have 80% fat content,” says Bajekal.

“Avoid added salt, and steer clear of roasted nuts because heat processing damages the healthy fats. As for nut butters, they’re fine in moderation, but there is some evidence that we absorb all the fat and calories, in contrast to just 70% with whole nuts.”

Here’s our round-up of the healthiest nuts – with the nutritional content per 30g serving for each.


Walnut benefits

Best nuts for heart health

  • Fat: 20.6g
  • Saturated fat: 2.2g
  • Calories: 206

Only walnuts contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a plant-based form of Omega-3 fatty acid that boasts heart health credentials. A 25-year study of 3,300 people at the University of Minnesota in 2022 found those who ate a handful a day had lower blood pressure and were a healthier weight than those who didn’t. Walnuts also lower cholesterol by 8.5%, says a recent study in Spain. 

“A handful (30g) contains 2.5g ALA – more than double the recommended daily amount (RDA) for women,” says dietitian Sian Porter.

A Texan study found that walnut-eaters have high levels of the gut bacteria associated with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, which may also explain the link with heart health. 

Almond benefits

Best nuts for muscle mass

  • Fat: 16.7g
  • Saturated fat: 1.3g
  • Calories: 184
Woman holding a bowl of almondsCredit: Shutterstock / SpeedKingz

“Almonds contain 20g of protein per 100g, which is comparable to meat and fish, and the most protein of any nut,” says Bridget Benelam at the British Nutrition Foundation. 

“We naturally lose muscle mass as we age, but eating protein delays that, particularly if you spread intake over the day rather than eating it in one sitting. They’re also the nut with the highest vitamin E content, essential for healthy skin, eyes and immune system. A 30g serving contains 60% of RDA.” 

They top the calcium charts too: a cup of almonds contains 378mg – that’s more than in a cup of milk (300mg).  


Cashew benefits

Best nuts for diabetics

  • Fat: 14.5g
  • Saturated fat: 2.9g
  • Calories: 172

Cashews are one of the least fattening nuts, yet are still bursting with micronutrients and plant sterols. A recent study in India saw 300 people with type 2 diabetes given a cashew-enriched diet or a typical diabetes diet. Those eating cashews had lower blood pressure and higher levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol after 12 weeks; their glucose levels remained stable.  

Cashews are also useful for vegetarians. “They are a rich source of zinc and contain more iron than any other nut – a mineral that helps make red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body and reduce tiredness,” explains Benelam. A 30g portion provides around 20% of the RDA of iron for men and non-menstruating women. 

Pistachio benefits

Best nuts for eye health

  • Fat: 13.6g
  • Saturated fat: 1.7g
  • Calories: 169

Pistachios win hands down when it comes to levels of zeaxanthin and lutein, the carotenoids responsible for the nut’s green-purple hue. They help protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and from the damage caused by blue light. One serving (30g) contains approximately 1.4mg of lutein (its health benefits are associated with consuming 6mg a day).

Rich in fibre, pistachios have a low glycaemic index, and are high in protein, making you feel fuller for longer. Go for those in shells: research has shown we consume 41% less calories a sitting.  

Brazil nut benefits

Best nuts for immunity

  • Fat: 20.5g
  • Saturated fat: 5.2g
  • Calories: 205

“Brazil nuts are the richest known food source of selenium, an antioxidant that boosts the immune system, supports thyroid function and promotes good skin, hair and nails,” says Bajekal. “A single nut provides your RDA of this mineral, so I eat one every morning with my vitamins.”  

Brazils have heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as the most saturated fat of any nut, with 5.2g per 30g, so experts advise a maximum of three a day. 

Hazelnut benefits

Best nuts for memory

  • Fat: 19.1g
  • Saturated fat: 1.4g
  • Calories: 195

In Iranian traditional medicine, hazelnuts have long been used to help treat memory impairment. Researchers in Tehran gave scientific validity to this, finding that eating hazelnut kernels for 16 days improved memory and reduced anxiety (albeit in an animal study). This could be due to their high monounsaturated fat content – hazelnuts have the second highest levels after macadamias.

Hazelnuts also contain several powerful micronutrients, with the highest concentration of anti-inflammatory manganese.


Written by Ruth Tierney