Are nuts healthy?

Story highlights

  • Eating nuts daily can cut risk of heart disease by nearly 30%
  • Walnuts have a significant amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids

(CNN)Yes, nuts are a very healthy snack food and pack a big bang for the bite in terms of their nutrients.

Nuts are rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, which lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol; plus, they are a good source of phytosterols, compounds that help lower blood cholesterol.
They are packed with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin E, potassium and magnesium.
    Walnuts are a winner among nuts, because unlike their siblings, they have a significant amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for skin health. They also contain the most antioxidants compared with other nuts, according to a study from the American Chemical Society.
    Because they are high in fat, nuts are also calorie-dense. A small handful goes a long way. But the fat, along with protein, is satiating and helps slow rises in blood sugar. That can prevent cravings for sweets and other carbohydrate-rich foods. In fact, research suggests that nuts may help with appetite control, which can prevent weight gain or even help with weight loss.
    Research has also shown that eating nuts daily may help us live healthier lives. A 2016 analysis of 29 studies and up to 819,000 people revealed that 20 grams of nuts a day -- equivalent to a handful -- can cut people's risk of heart disease by nearly 30%, their risk of cancer by 15% and their risk of premature death by 22%.
    The study included all kinds of tree nuts, such as hazelnuts and walnuts, and peanuts (which are technically legumes). Other research has suggested that eating nuts every day in place of carbohydrates can help control type 2 diabetes.
    Although it may be nuts to not include nuts in your diet, it's important to watch portions, because calories in nuts add up quickly. Macadamia nuts are the most caloric, at 240 calories per quarter-cup.
    Walnuts have approximately 160 calories per quarter cup; pistachios and pecans have about 170 calories, and peanuts and cashews have about 200 calories. If you are watching sodium, choose raw or unsalted nuts.
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    To reduce the calorie load from nuts, choose raw or dry-roasted instead of oil-roasted nuts. A quarter-cup of oil-roasted almonds has 238 calories, but the same amount of dry-roasted almonds has 206 calories. (Note that the calorie differences may be less significant, depending on the type of nut.)
    Also, include nuts as a snack or meal ingredient. Try making your own trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, or sprinkle some nuts in your salad, cereal or yogurt. You can also use crushed nuts as a tasty topping for fish. And if you want nothing other than nuts, stick to quarter-cup portions, or a small handful.
    (Note: Calorie amounts for nuts are based on the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.)