Nuts: The Ultimate Guide

In the paleo world, nuts are always controversial and give rise to a lot of questions.

  • Are they good for you in spite of being seeds?
  • Have we adapted to them?
  • Is phytic acid a problem?

And finally

  • Is there anyone who can stick to eating just ten almonds after opening a box and not finish the entire packet?

So when I came across this extensive overview on Mark Sisson’s blog, I set to work on it and here is my version.



Remember the day when you discovered ground almonds? Suddenly you saw a light. All at once you found out how to produce paleo pancakes, muffins and cookies. Sprinkle chicken pieces with ground almonds before frying them in hot oil to produce chicken nuggets that even Loren Cordain could reluctantly accept. But then you put on a bit of weight, your stomach feels a bit weird and you start to worry about the amount of fatty acids.  So you give up on the ground almonds and then the after-dinner bag of whole almonds and decide that almonds aren’t paleo after all!

Let’s see what almonds can do for us:

20 grams contains:

  • 115 calories
  • 4.2g carbohydrate:  3.5 fibre
  • 10 gm fat: 6.2 gm MUFA, 2.4 gm linoleic acid (LA) 0.8 gm SFA
  • 4.2 gm protein
  • 35% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) Vitamin E
  • 16% RDA vitamin B2
  • 22% RDA copper
  • 13% RDA magnesium
  • 20% RDA manganese


  • Eating almonds improves the fatty acid of profile of lipids in the blood
  • Almonds reduce lipid oxidation biomarkers.
  • Almonds reduce insulin secretion in non-diabetics.
  • Almonds improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics.
  • When eaten before a meal, almonds improve both satiety and blood glucose levels after eating, without increasing total energy intake.
  • Almonds contain powerful pre-biotic fibres.
  • Eating almonds improves the endocrine profile of women with poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Side effects:

  • Almonds are a crop that needs a lot of water
  • There are high levels of phytates in almonds and these inhibit mineral absorption.
  • Raw almonds are hard to find. Most of the almonds advertised as raw in shops have been pasteurised.



All along the banks of the South American rivers grow trees laden with nuts that fall from the trees with quite a bump.  These are Brazil nuts and they are very rich indeed.

20 grams contains:

  • 131 calories
  • 2.5 g carbohydrate:  1.5 fibre
  • 13 gm fat: 4.9 gm MUFA, 4.1 gm LA 3 gm SFA
  • 3 gm protein
  • 10.6% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 39% RDA copper
  • 18% RDA magnesium
  • 10.6% RDA manganese
  • 700% RDA selenium


The most obvious benefits of Brazil nuts are their incredible levels of selenium, because unless you regularly eat animal kidneys or wild salmon, selenium can be difficult to find. Selenium is incredibly important for thyroid function, antioxidant capacity, immune function and cardiovascular health. There is only a narrow band of tolerance between too high/too low a dose: at a certain level it becomes toxic, hence the need of supplemental Selenium will depend greatly on how much people get in their regular diet.

Side effects:

  • The very high levels of selenium in Brazil nuts gives rise to some concerns about toxicity.
  • Phytate levels in Brazil nuts are high, but as you don’t have to eat many of them to reap the benefits, this shouldn’t be a problem.



Cashew also come from Brazil where they grow attached to a strange fruit called the cashew apple.  The apple itself is actually edible, and from what I have heard, really delicious.  The shell of the cashew, however, is full of a poisonous resin called cashew balm.  (But the person who called it that must have been a bit of a joker, because in no circumstances should it come into contact with the skin!).  Cashews themselves aren’t poisonous, because by the time they reach the shops they have been thoroughly washed and are ready to eat. This also means that when we eat them they are never completely raw as they have been boiled to get the nut out of the shell.

20 grams contains:

  • 111 calories
  • 6.1 g carbohydrate:  0.6 fibre
  • 8.8 gm fat: 4.7 gm MUFA, 1.6 gm LA 1.6 gm SFA
  • 3.7 gm protein
  • 7.1% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 49% RDA copper
  • 17% RDA iron
  • 14% RDA magnesium
  • 10.6% RDA zinc


There are very few publications on cashews and the few that are there are not very conclusive.  In one study it was found that a diet rich in cashews had very little effect on markers for metabolic syndrome although the blood sugar rose slightly.  Another study found that cashews improved baroreceptor reflex sensitivity, a marker for cardiovascular health. In general they are probably good for you but they don’t fall into the category of super-foods.

Side effects:

  • Cashew allergy is more frequent that people think.  In fact it is as common as peanut allergy.
  • Cashew allergy often looks like mango allergy.
  • It’s easy to eat too many of them, I guess because they taste so delicious.



Although they come from trees and are classified as nuts, chestnuts are different from most other nuts: they are starchy and low in fat and protein. We could say that they are closer to a tuber than a nut. Chestnuts are low in phytate and high in flavor and can be eaten raw, roasted, or steamed. The taste of a perfectly roasted chestnut is unique and satisfying. Crunchy, sweet and tender.  Shades of autumn ….

20 grams contains:

  • 74 calories
  • 15.5 gm carbohydrate:  2.3 gm fibre
  • 0.8 gm fat:
  • I gm protein
  • 5.7% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 7.8%RDA vitamin B6
  • 5.7% RDA folate
  • 14.8% RDA copper
  • 10.6% RDA manganese


Chestnuts contain nothing to make them particularly stand out.  And not many studies have been done on them.  Before potatoes came to Europe they were a great source of energy.  They are very rich and in principle completely healthy in normal quantities.

Side effects:

  • The carbohydrate content is high, because chestnuts contain more starch than classic nuts. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them. Just bear in mind that they contain carbohydrate and treat them more as potatoes than almonds.
  • Raw chestnuts are very hard to peel.  Does anyone know of a foolproof method?
  • Some chestnuts explode when cooked and some ninjas use them as missiles.



Archaeologists say that hazelnut shells are ‘one of the commonest vegetable materials to be recovered from Neolithic sites’, so human beings have had a fondness for the hazelnut for thousands of years – and probably much longer than that.  As you can see from the list of benefits, I think our ancestors couldn’t have been more right!

20 grams contains:

  • 126 calories
  • 3.3 gm carbohydrate: 1.9 gm fibre
  • 12.2 gm fat: 9 MUFA, I.6 LA, 0.9 SFA
  • 3 gm protein
  • 10.6% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 19.8%RDA vitamin E
  • 38.2% RDA copper
  • 12% RDA iron
  • 7.8% RDA magnesium
  • 53% RDA manganese


  • Hazelnut skin is one of the richest edible sources of polyphenol compounds, 7-8 times higher than black chocolate, 10 times higher than espresso coffee and 25 times higher than blackberries.
  • Hazelnuts improve lipid profiles, including a reduction in Apolipoprotein B (a measure linked to the level of LDL particles).
  • Diets enriched by hazelnuts improve cardiovascular health by more than their effect on the lipid profiles (this is positive in its own right).
  • Hazelnuts also increase the level of Vitamin E.
  • Hazelnuts make LDL less susceptible to oxidation.

Side effects:

  • Nutella may be delicious but it’s not the right way to introduce hazelnuts into your life, however good for you they may be! Sorry, guys.
  • May produce allergies.
  • Moderately high in phytates.



The buttery and slightly sweet macadamia nut is becoming very popular these days.

20 grams contains:

  • 203.5 calories
  • 3.9 gm carbohydrate: 2.4 gm fibre
  • 21.5 gm fat: 9 monounsaturates 16.7 gm, linoleic acid 0.4 gm, alpha linoleic acid 0.1 gm, short chain fatty acids 3.4 gm
  • 2.2 gm protein
  • 28% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 24%cRDA copper
  • 13% RDA iron
  • 51% RDA manganese


  • Low in phytates.  No need to soak or sprout them.
  • Low in pesticide residues, even if not grown organically
  • Low in omega-6 fatty acids
  • Eating macadamia nuts has been shown to improve the lipid profile among women and men with high levels of cholesterol.  It had the same effect on Japanese youths, middle-aged Kurdish women and some Spaniards from Burgos.
  • Macadamia nuts lower the biomarkers for oxidative stress.

Side effects:

  • Too good!  Macadamia nuts are energy dense so we can go ahead and eat them.
  • Allergy, though this is rare.



These come from pine trees. Most types of pine tree produce nuts that are too tiny to be worth harvesting.

20 grams contains:

  • 178.3 calories
  • 5.5 gm carbohydrate: 3 gm fibre
  • 17.3 gm fat: 6.5 gm MUFA, 7.1 gm LA, 0.2 gm ALA, 2.7 gm SFA
  • 3.3 gm protein
  • 29% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 33% RDA copper
  • 16% RDA magnesium
  • 53% RDA manganese
  • 11% zinc


  • Pine nut oil acts as an appetite suppressant in overweight women, increasing their feeling of satiety after food.
  • Pine nuts can increase the sensitivity of the LDL receptor.

Side effects:

  • There is a condition in which everything you eat has a nasty, bitter, metallic taste.  This may happen to sensitive people after eating pine nuts and it lasts for about two weeks.



Pistachios are green, wrinkled and sometimes hard to open. But very good for you!

20 grams contains:

  • 159.3 calories
  • 7.8 gm carbohydrate: 2.9 gm fibre
  • 12.9 gm fat: 6.8 gm MUFA, 3.8 gm LA, 0.1 gm ALA, 1.6 gm SFA
  • 5.7 gm protein
  • 21% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 28% Vitamin B6
  • 17% Vitamin K
  • 41% RDA copper
  • 14% RDA iron
  • 15% RDA manganese


  • Very low in phytic acid
  • A source of prebiotic fibre, even more so than almonds
  • Pistachios reduce the glucose spike that follows a meal.
  • Pistachios lessen the glucose reaction in meals that are rich in carbohydrates.

Side effects:

  • They may give rise to allergies.
  • Those damned shells that are impossible to open are the worst!



Many people from the paleo health community avoid walnuts because of the quantities of linoleic acid they produce. However as long as you don’t go around eating them all the time in industrial quantities, they won’t do you much harm.   In fact, the literature in favour of the walnut is just too extensive to ignore.  Also they taste delicious, especially when they’ve just been shelled.

20 grams contains:

  • 185.4 calories
  • 3.9 gm carbohydrate: 1.9 gm fibre
  • 18.5 gm fat: 2.5 gm MUFA, 10.8 LA, 2.6 gm ALA, 1.7 gm SFA
  • 4.3 gm protein
  • 50% RDA copper
  • 10% RDA iron
  • 11% RDA magnesium
  • 42% RDA manganese


  • Walnuts lower non-HDL cholesterol and Apolipoprotein B.
  • Walnuts improve endothelial function in adults with abdominal fat, and with type 2 diabetics.
  • Walnuts improve the lipid profile, reduce oxidative stress, increase the outflow of cholesterol and improve the risk of cardiac illness.

Side effects:

  • Their polyunsaturated fatty acid content is high, but if the diet is low in seeds and rich in omega 3 that shouldn’t be too big a problem.
  • Walnuts can go rancid very quickly.
  • May give rise to allergies.
  • Moderately high in phytates.

What are phytates and how do we minimise their impact?

Phytic acid, also known as phytate, is an ‘anti-nutrient’ found in vegetables, cereals, legumes and nuts.  Plants use this acid mainly to neutralise phosphorus. However it can bind with other types of ions such as iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium, effectively ‘kidnapping’ them.  Soaking nuts minimises or completely gets rid of phytates and other anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, polyphenols and goitrogens.

Final conclusion:

Here are my final conclusions (but be aware that they aren’t based on any concrete study).

Nuts contain the plant’s genetic material. Plants don’t want you to eat their genetic material so they develop defensive strategies to avoid this; In particular, hard shells and toxins (anti-nutrients).  That said, the fact that this type of fruit has historically been much more affordable and can be eaten without a lot of preparation and technology we’re probably quite well adapted to it and can tolerate it’s anti-nutrients in small quantities.

The problem is that they’re good, they’re fatty, crunchy and slightly sweet. Added to that, we usually roast them and add salt (activating our pleasure feedback system still more) with the result that we usually eat too many of them.  And we’re not adapted for that.  And naturally still less to nut flours and nut butters.

So you can eat nuts fresh from their shells, with nothing added, the way they were made, as long as you know that, like a good paleo you’ll end up holding on to my final piece of advice: buy them in small packets.

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