The Best and Worst Nuts, by Nutrition and Price

by Elizabeth Lang on 25 April 2011 15 comments
Photo: Ednaar

Despite my misgivings about pine nuts (See Funny Taste Mystery about how bad pine nuts caused me to have a funny metallic taste in my mouth a week), most days my lunch includes a small serving some kind of nut be it almonds, cashews, or pecans. I enjoy their taste, but I mostly eat nuts because I know that they're “good for you.” But which nuts are the best for you? Which are the worst? (See also: Healthy, Frugal Eating)

Because I eat a lot of nuts, I’m well aware of how expensive nuts can be. (I always buy them at Trader Joes because they seem to have the best prices in our area.) So it makes sense to also consider which nuts are cheapest. The price of nuts varies by region and store, so for a fair price comparison I used prices from the Nutty Guys website (an online store that sells nuts in bulk, which made it easier to compare than other sites). All prices below are for 8 oz. packages. I took the cheapest price in what is a ready-to-eat form. (That is, I would use the pieces price instead of the whole-nut price when it was cheaper, and I always the shelled price — even if it was more expensive.)

The Healthiest Nuts

Most people know nuts are good for them; the nut councils have plastered magazines and TV ads with all the great qualities of nuts ranging from lowering cholesterol to reducing the risk of heart disease. But how do nuts compare? Here are the best nuts for you with ounce-by-ounce nutritional comparisons.

Mixed Nuts

An update by the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide concluded (partially in jest) that unsalted mixed nuts are the best for you because they combine all the nutritional values of the nuts in them. I can’t disagree.

Price: $5.17 for 8 oz. mix of almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, and pecans

Almonds

Almonds are high in vitamin E and have more magnesium than most nuts. A quarter cup of whole almonds (about the same as a 1 oz. serving size) has nearly the amount of calcium as a quarter cup of milk.

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 14 grams (1 saturated (s), 9 monounsaturated (m), 3 polyunsaturated (p) )
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: Over 35% of your daily requirement of vitamin E, over 30% for manganese, and almost 20% for riboflavin and magnesium.

Price: $4.74 for 8 oz.

Walnuts

Walnuts are the only nut with alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. They also have vitamin E and magnesium.

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 18 grams (1.5 s, 2.5 m, 13 p)
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: The World's Healthiest Foods reports that walnuts have special anti-inflammatory benefits because they contain tannins tellimagrandin, the flavonol morin, and quinone juglone (which is found in almost no other food).

Price: $4.91 for 8 oz.

Peanuts

Peanuts (technically legumes) have the most folate of any nuts.

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 14 grams (2 s, 7 m, 4 p)
  • Protein: 7 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: Almost 20% of your daily value of niacin and 10% of folate and vitamin E.

Price: $3.73 for 8 oz.

Cashews

Cashews have more magnesium than almonds. And most of the unsaturated fat in cashews is oleic acid, which is the same fat that's in heart-healthy olive oil.

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 13 grams (3 s, 8 m, 2 p)
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: Cashews contain over 5% of the recommended daily values of vitamin K and iron.

Price: $4.74 for 8 oz.

Brazil Nuts

According to the Harvard update cited above, Brazil nuts are the best nuts for men because they are high in selenium, which may protect against prostate cancer. A 1 oz. serving of Brazil nuts has nearly 10 times the recommended daily value of selenium.

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 19 grams (5 s, 7 m, 7 p)
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: Over 5% of the recommended daily values of thiamin, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Price: $4.79 for 8 oz.

Pistachios

I’m not sure why, but I never thought pistachios were all that healthy. I’ve been proven wrong after reading about all of their antioxidants and vitamins. Tonight’s dessert: Ben and Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio!

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 13 grams (1.5 s, 7 m, 4 p)
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: Nearly 20% of recommended allowance of vitamin B6 and thiamin. And Pistachios' antioxidants (which include Lutein and beta-carotene) are like those found in dark leafy vegetables.

Price: $6.87 for 8 oz.

The Least-Healthy Nuts

There is no “worst nut.” Anything is bad for you when you overindulge — but macadamia nuts and pecans are slightly worse for you because they are higher in calories than other nuts. While they are only about 10 calories per serving higher than some of the other nuts listed above, they are also higher in fat and lower in protein. Ounce for ounce, they just aren’t quite as good as some of the others.

Macadamia Nuts

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 200
  • Fat: 22 grams (3.5 s, 17 m, .5 p)
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: A 1 oz. serving contains 6% of the daily recommended value of iron and over 20% of the recommended value of thiamine.

Price: $6.14 for 8 oz.

Pecans

Nutrition per ounce:

  • Calories: 200
  • Fat: 20 grams (2 s, 12 m, 6 p)
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Other notable nutrients: A 1 oz. serving of pecans contains 8% of the recommended daily value of thiamine and 16% of the recommend daily value of copper.

Price: $6.25 for 8 oz.

Interestingly enough, pecans and macadamia nuts, which both are high in calories and fat (and some of the tastiest nuts in my opinion), are also the most expensive nuts.

Best Nuts Overall: Mixed Nuts

Because of the variety of nutrients each type of nuts has, combined with the fact that almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, and walnuts are all close in price — the best nut is really a mixture. So, either buy premade mixed nuts, or buy nuts in bulk and make your own. 

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Guest's picture

Interesting. I don't eat too many nuts simply because I've never liked them. My wife really does though and she finds almonds to be her favorites. The problem with many that are sold is that they're high in salt.

Guest's picture
Julie

Waaa!
You left out the one nut I can grow (easily) hazelnuts (AKA filberts)
Any chance we can get them added to the list?

Guest's picture

Dang, my favorite Macadamias got relegated to the "worst" list. Oh well, I still love them, even if they're ridiculously expensive.

Guest's picture
Guest

The almond has alway been my favorite. I was happy to see it at the top of the list. I was very surprised to see cashews up there. Had no idea how good for you they r
I love macadamia nuts too, but for as often ad I have them, I don't think I'm in any trouble. A little too pricey.

Guest's picture
Addison

Would like to see an article like this for seeds. Like, Sunflower, pumpkin, etc

Guest's picture
Ruggero

Pine nuts are even tastier than macadamia nuts. Just get the Italian ones!

Guest's picture
Guest

You put macadamias, the overall best nut with the best fat-profile, on the least-healthy list? Good job.. If the amount of calories per ounce determines how healthy something is, we should´nt eat nuts at all.

Guest's picture

Great Reply. The article was obviously written by a "low fat" "high carber" and believes all calories are the same. In the high fat world (which heals illness and helps you loose weight) Macadamia nuts are the number one choice because they are high fat and lowest in Carb. Do your research people: A calories is NOT a calorie, (quality) fats make you thin and Carbs raise your blood sugar and make you fat!

Guest's picture

What a great article! I've always loved almonds so it's great to know that they are packed with awesome nutrients especially calcium!

Guest's picture
worldexplorer

I love nuts and use to have an easier time finding them without salt, especially in bulk, but the local Hannafords discontinued them and they've been hard to find. Luckily I took time to explore a local Indian store and they have multiple varieties, all without salt and for the cheapest prices I've seen in years. If you've got an Indian store in your area, check them out. Also, I've just learned how to make my own granola and it's 90% nuts and seeds. Goes great on granola in the a.m. and for snacks. It can even be made as bars.

Guest's picture
jas

Booo!!! I love peacans I made my living as a child picking peacans n okla. I demand a retest...Lol
What about black walnuts compared 2 english walnuts? Tk u now I have 2 moderate my peacan
Intake

Guest's picture
Guest

It is not bad pine nuts that cause the metallic taste - it is all pine nuts. I forget what it is in pine nuts that does this, but it is in their nature to do this!

Guest's picture
Milley

Great article. I too love nuts, but have always tried to eat them in moderation because of the fat content. That’s why I tend to stick to almonds, though I recently read an article on the health properties of walnuts, so have allowed myself some of those as well.

Years ago I heard that with cashew nuts, you’ll never find them in their shell, because between the shell and the nut is an oil I believe they said, that is toxic, which has to be removed before the nut is consumed. Though this seems somewhat hard to believe, it is true that I have never seen them in their shell. Just wondering if anyone here may know about that.

I’ve also heard that roasting them reduces the nutritional value, so I tend to eat only raw ones. Does anyone know if that is fact or fiction, as they really do taste nice when they are roasted?

Guest's picture
Health Nut

http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-best-nut-2/

There have been numerous studies that have proven no added weight as a result of consuming nuts. The one mentioned herein cites pecans as the healthiest nut based on antioxidant properties. I can live with that reason for them being more expensive.
Your thoughts?

Guest's picture
cheryl

I don't suppose there's a spreadsheet that puts these facts into easily sortable columns...