What are nuts?

Tree nuts are nutrient-dense, edible seed kernels encased in a hard shell – the most popular being almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios as well as cashews, pine nuts, pecans, macadamias and Brazil nuts.


Although chestnuts (castanea sativa) are tree nuts, they are different from all other common nuts because they are starchier and have a different nutrient profile. Often thought of as a ‘nut,’ peanuts are technically legumes just like peas and beans.

The health benefits of nuts may include:

  1. Rich in protective antioxidants
  2. Support gut health
  3. May aid weight management
  4. High in fats
  5. Support heart health

Discover the top ten healthiest nuts, as well as the health benefits of cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios, walnuts and almonds. Check out some of our best nut recipes, including delicious charred broccoli, lemon and walnut pasta.

Nutritional profile of mixed nuts

A 30g serving of mixed nuts provides:

More like this
  • 174Kcal /722KJ
  • 7.1g protein
  • 14.7g fat
  • 8.2g mono-unsaturated fat
  • 3.5g poly-unsaturated fat
  • 3.5g carbohydrate
  • 1.9g fibre
  • 28mg calcium
  • 67mg magnesium

Each type of nut has different nutritional credentials, with some nuts being richer in certain nutrients – for example, Brazil nuts are especially rich in the mineral selenium.

Nuts in a bowl

Top 5 health benefits of nuts

1. Rich in protective antioxidants

Nuts contain plant defence chemicals called polyphenols which have a protective effect in the body – they do so by helping to neutralise unstable molecules called free radicals, that can cause damage.

A study looking at the protective effect of walnuts and almonds suggested their polyphenol content increased antioxidant capacity which in turn helped to protect cells from damage.

2. Supports gut health

Nuts are a good source of fibre, with almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans being among the richest. Evidence suggests that a diet rich in fibre is associated with a lower risk of a number of chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes. Increasing fibre in your diet may also support and regulate your digestive function.

The polyphenols in nuts also help to keep our guts healthy by benefiting the good bacteria that reside there – they do this by fuelling the bacteria, helping them grow and increase in number. In turn certain bacteria produce short chain fatty acids that provide numerous benefits for both our gut and our wider health.

3. May aid weight management

Nuts contain a number of nutrients and phytochemicals that we find difficult to digest, and this results in us being unable to absorb approximately 5 -15% of the calories in nuts. This explains why consuming a modest amount, such as a small handful of nuts, is inversely associated with body mass index (BMI).

This was illustrated by research which found that consuming nuts, in this case 55g of almonds, as part of a healthy diet had limited risk of weight gain. A study from 2013 also concluded that almonds, when consumed as a snack, helps to reduce hunger.

4. Fat rich

With the exception of chestnuts, nuts are a high fat food, with levels ranging from 46% in cashews and pistachio to 76% in macadamias. However, the types of fat are such that they have proven benefits to health, typically being low in saturated fat, with higher levels of the heart-friendly mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats.

Walnuts are worthy of special mention because they have the highest content of the short chain omega-3 essential fatty acid, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) of all edible plants, making them a useful inclusion for those following a plant-focused diet.

5. Supports heart health

Including nuts in your diet has been associated with improved heart health. This is because consuming nuts helps maintain the health of the lining of the arteries, balances cholesterol and reduces the build-up of deposits called plaques, while also lowering the risk of blood clots.

The reasons why nuts support heart health are numerous, and include their beneficial fat profile rich in mono and poly-unsaturated varieties, their fibre content, the existence of phytosterols as well as contributions of proteins such as l-arginine, which help relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure.

Are nuts safe for everyone?

Although a beneficial food for many, tree nuts are one of the most common food allergens and as a result have the ability to cause allergic reactions, including severe anaphylaxis. Cross contamination is a particular concern for those with a nut allergy and requires extra caution when eating away from home. Whole nuts also pose a choking risk, especially for the under-fives.

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This article was last reviewed on 12 February 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the past 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including Good Food.


All health content on goodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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