Need a quick snack to keep those hunger pains at bay? You could grab a bag of chips or crackers from the kitchen cabinet or office vending machine. But what's really inside that bag of goodies?
Sure it may taste good when you bite into it, but what exactly are you filling your body with?
When your stomach starts growling, choosing the right snack gets tricky—especially if you're following a diet mindful of carbs and sugar. But the good news is there's something easy to grab—literally, all you need is a handful—that's packed with rich nutrients that will help you stay full: nuts!
Benefits of Adding Nuts to Your Snacking
We sat down with Judy Thompson, RDN, MPH, and licensed dietitian in Honolulu, HI, to discuss the benefits of nuts and their impact on our bodies. Here are a few she wanted to pass along.
Fiber and Good Fats
"Dietary fiber is one nutrient that can help hold you over in-between meals, " said Thompson. "And that's exactly what you’ll get in a handful of nuts of any type—whether you choose almonds, walnuts, or peanuts.''
In addition to the nutrients that keep you full, nuts also provide magnesium and potassium:
- Magnesium: This nutrient helps support the immune system
- Potassium: This mineral plays a vital role in supporting how our bodies perform, including muscle, nerve, and cell function. Potassium may also help reduce blood pressure.
Another reason we like nuts so much is because they contain protein. This essential macronutrient does more than keep you full. It helps strengthen your muscles and bones and repairs cartilage.
Did you know that nuts are a nutrient-dense food you can add to your diet—next to fruits, veggies, and whole grains? This means they're packed with vitamins and minerals with less saturated fat or added sugar.
Okay, so nuts are a great snack option, but can I eat them if I'm on a low carb diet?
Are Nuts Carb Friendly?
Nuts come in many different varieties, with some containing more carbs than others. The trick is paying careful attention to each nutritional label before choosing a lower-carb snack. Cashews, for example, contain 20 grams of carbs (serving size: 60 cashews) while pistachios contain over 33 grams (per one cup).
5 Nuts with the Lowest Carbs
Among the many varieties of nuts out there, here are a few of our favorites that are 5 or less carbs per serving.
- Brazil: Need a good source of protein and fiber? Brazil nuts are rich in antioxidants and have less than 2 grams of carbs per one-ounce serving (Yup, you read that right!)
- Pecans: Coming in at number two is pecans. These nuts contain only 4 grams per one-ounce serving. They also contain 3 grams of dietary fiber, which is considered one of the highest per serving.
- Walnuts: Walnuts make great toppings on salads or yogurt. Coming in at 4 grams per ¼ cup, you're sure to get more bang for your buck when you crush them up to keep portion control in check!
- Macadamia: Macadamia's are also a low-carb favorite, containing 4 grams of carbs per one-ounce serving and 21 grams of fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). As Thomas noted earlier, these types of nuts may help lower bad cholesterol levels.
- Peanuts: Though a tad higher on the carb scale, peanuts are still a smart snack option due to their protein and healthy fats consistency. A serving of 30 grams puts you at 5 grams of carbs, so savor this option in moderation.
Are Almonds Keto-Friendly?
This question comes up a lot among people following a ketogenic diet. Though slightly higher than brazil nuts, almonds contain just under 3 grams of carbs per one-ounce serving. According to Medical News Today, they are also rich in vitamin E and may help lower cholesterol levels.
However, similar to macadamia nuts, they are slightly higher in calories, so moderation is key!
Beware of Added Sugar & High Cals in Nuts
Before you can enjoy the satisfying crunch of peanuts or pecans, be mindful when grabbing a handful. Choosing nuts that contain added salt, sugar, or other ingredients can take away from its rich nutrients.
"Your best bet when it comes to consuming nuts is choosing those without chocolate or candy coatings or varieties roasted in honey," said Thompson. "As these types of mixes can increase the level of carbohydrates (i.e., sugar), so stick to raw or roasted."
Thompson also recommends limiting salt. "Go for unsalted or lightly salted options," said Thompson. Remember to check the ingredient lists for peanut, almond, or any type of nut butter, as some varieties toss in added sugar, while others contain only the nuts themselves.
Lastly, because nuts contain a high amount of fat, they also carry a higher amount of calories. Many labels say a serving size equals one-ounce, which is hard to visualize. Thompson recommends thinking of a tablespoon of nuts as 50 calories. Next, consider how many calories you want in your snacks and choose how many tablespoons of nuts to consume.
Remember to take into account whether you’ll have a trail mix or fruit with your nuts, which will influence the calorie and sugar consistency.