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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Healthy Eating arrow Best Nuts for Protein: Your Go-To Guide for Healthier Snacking

Best Nuts for Protein: Your Go-To Guide for Healthier Snacking

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Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
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Fact checked by Edibel Quintero, RD
Last update: November 28, 2023
12 min read 224 Views 0 Comments
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Go Nuts for Protein: Unveiling Nature’s Tiniest Powerhouses

Best nuts for protein

Did you know that eating just one ounce of nuts equates to one-third of the daily protein needs for men, and two-fifths for women?

Protein makes up the building blocks of muscles, bones, and other tissues throughout your body. It’s important to get plenty of protein into your diet, as this essential macronutrient can also keep you fuller for longer, helping to control cravings and maintain your energy levels throughout the day

Whether you’re looking for ways of boosting your protein intake, or simply need a new healthy snack to eat on the go, nuts check both of these boxes. However, not all nuts are equal, with some offering a bigger protein content than others. 

We explain which nuts have the highest protein content, the other health benefits they provide, and explore some of the most delicious ways to include them in your diet.

Why Nuts? Understanding Their Nutritional Value

When we think of high-protein foods, the first thing that typically springs to mind is meat and poultry. However, nuts are a great, highly versatile plant-based alternative, and one ounce offers a similar nutritional value to two ounces of red meat, chicken, or fish.

One of the reasons that nuts are so versatile is due to their nutritional breakdown, which is balanced well with protein, carbohydrates, and fat. In particular, they are rich in unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids that help to keep your heart healthy. 

Along with being a heart-healthy food, nuts are also a good source of dietary fiber. When eaten as part of a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, they can therefore keep your digestive system moving, and help to satisfy your appetite for longer periods.

Top Nuts for Protein: 10 Best Options to Amp Up Your Diet

Wondering which nuts you should be eating? Here are the top 10 high-protein options that we’d recommend if you’re hoping to build healthier eating habits, including their protein content per ounce: 

#1 Peanuts 

Protein: 7 grams of protein per ounce

Along with foods such as lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans, peanuts are classified as legumes. 

These are a type of plant-based protein that are relatively cheap, easily accessible, and highly versatile. 

Like other legumes, peanuts are rich in protein, delivering the highest amount of this important nutrient than any other nut. These commonly consumed nuts have the full spectrum of 9 essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein, that we need to get through our diets, but contain lysine and methionine in only low doses.

This means that peanuts and peanut butter can only be considered a complete protein, containing all 9 amino acids in sufficient amounts, when combined with complementary protein sources such as rice or bread.

#2 Almonds (6 g)

Protein: 6 grams of protein per ounce

Despite technically being seeds, almonds are typically considered one of the best high-protein tree nuts. 

Thanks to their healthy fat and protein content, almonds have been shown to increase satiety and leave you feeling fuller for longer. One study found that consuming almonds mid-morning significantly lowered calorie intake at lunch and dinner, potentially making them a good weight loss food.

When buying almonds, try to choose those with the skins on, as this is where most of the nut’s nutrients can be found. They can also be beneficial in a high-protein nut butter, or as a low-calorie milk added to your morning coffee.

#3 Pistachios (6 g)

Protein: 6 grams of protein per ounce

Along with peanuts, pistachios contain a higher ratio of essential amino acids compared to the other nuts on our list. 

Specifically, pistachios are the richest source of valine, a branched-chain amino acid that must be obtained from dietary sources.

You may be surprised to hear that a one-ounce serving of pistachios contains as much protein as one egg. This makes them a convenient alternative to other high-protein snacks that may be more difficult to eat on the go.

#4 Cashews (5.17 g) 

Protein: 5.17 grams of protein per ounce

Cashews are also classified as seeds, but usually enjoyed as nuts. These high-protein nuts work well in Asian dishes like stir-fries for an added crunch, or crushed up to form the base of a cheesecake.

Whether eating as a rich nutty snack or mixing into your favorite meals. be sure to always buy raw cashews. 

Many manufacturers add extra oils to enhance their flavor, but this can simply increase the calorie content. Over time, consuming snacks with too much added salt may increase your blood pressure, putting you at risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.

#5 Walnuts (4.3 g)

Protein: 4.3 grams of protein per ounce

Walnuts make a great addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Use these high-protein nuts to top a healthy dessert like vegan banana pancakes, or crumble them into ground beef to boost the protein content of your favorite meat-based dishes.

As well as offering a good amount of protein, around 4 grams per serving, walnuts are known to be a rich plant-based source of antioxidants. 

With over 20 mmol per 100 grams, walnuts have one of the highest antioxidant contents of all nuts, alongside chestnuts and pecans.

#6 Hazelnuts (4.2 g)

Protein: 4.2 grams of protein per ounce

Hazelnuts contain approximately 4 grams of protein per ounce and 176 calories, which is equivalent to 20 kernels. They are also rich in minerals like magnesium and calcium, which are important for supporting healthy bones, along with vitamins B and E.

Thanks to their buttery toasted flavor, hazelnuts make a great high-protein snack either raw, roasted, or ground into a paste. Hazelnuts are generally best enjoyed paired with sweet foods like chocolate and creamy desserts, or to add a delicious twist to your regular coffee creamer. 

They can also be used to make your own version of the popular branded chocolate spread, but with significantly lower calories, fewer added sugars, and more protein.

#7 Brazil nuts (4.1 g)

Protein: 4.1 grams of protein per ounce

Brazil nuts are the largest type of nuts on our high-protein list, and originate from the seeds of rainforest trees. While packing in 4.1 grams of protein per serving, they are perhaps most well-known for meeting 100% of your daily requirements for selenium.

This is a mineral that plays a whole host of important roles in the body, from regulating thyroid and immune function to assisting testosterone production. 

It also helps with protein synthesis, the process during which cells in your body make proteins.

#8 Pine nuts (3.9 g)

Protein: 3.9 grams of protein per ounce

Derived from pine cones, pine nuts are another high-protein nut option that have an earthy, yet buttery taste and texture due to their high unsaturated fat content

This fat content makes pine nuts the perfect centerpiece for a rich pesto sauce. They are also regularly added to savory dishes like salads and pastas, or paired with roasted vegetables for a boost of protein.

Along with containing nearly 4 grams of protein per ounce, pine nuts are low in carbohydrates. This makes them an ideal snack for anyone wanting to eat nuts while on a low-carb or keto diet.

#9 Pecans (2.6 g)

Protein: 2.6 grams of protein per ounce

While usually thought of as a Thanksgiving staple, pecans shouldn’t just be reserved for pies. 

With 2.6 grams of plant-based protein per ounce and no cholesterol or sodium, pecans make a great heart-healthy snack throughout the rest of the year.

They are also rich in over 19 important vitamins and minerals, from calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, to vitamins A and E. 

A one-ounce serving of pecans contributes 10% of your recommended daily fiber intake, therefore helping to maintain a healthy gut and satisfy your appetite.

#10 Macadamia nuts (2.2 g)

Protein: 2.2 grams of protein per ounce

Containing 2.2 grams of protein per ounce, which equates to around 10 nuts, macadamia nuts have the lowest amount of protein of all other nuts on our list. 

However, they can add that extra boost of protein you need to push you closer to your protein goal, and work as a healthier, on-the-go snack alternative to chips or candy. 

As well as offering a subtle buttery flavor and creamy texture, macadamias have some of the highest flavonoid levels out of all tree nuts. Flavonoids are plant compounds that offer antioxidant effects, helping to lower inflammation and cholesterol levels.

Nuts: Health Benefits Beyond Protein

Nuts may be high in protein, but these health powerhouses also offer a range of other benefits that contribute to your overall wellness. We’ve summarized 3 reasons why you should include nuts in your daily diet:

#1 Keep your heart healthy

Studies show that swapping one serving of red meat per day for nuts can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30%. 

In particular, nuts are useful in lowering levels of bad LDL cholesterol and raising good HDL cholesterol. Maintaining balanced cholesterol levels helps to keep your cardiovascular system healthy, therefore reducing the risk of developing heart disease in the future.

Nuts are also a great source of healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALAs help your heart maintain a normal rhythm, and may also protect the brain from stroke.

#2 Provide vitamins and minerals

Other than protein and healthy fats, nuts also deliver a range of vitamins and minerals that are important for maintaining your overall well-being.

For example, cashews contain large amounts of copper, a mineral that helps to create red blood cells, maintain connective tissues, and support immune function. Studies show that those who don’t get enough copper into their diets are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition causing weak and brittle bones.

Another essential mineral found in varieties such as brazil nuts is selenium, which helps to fight infection and protects thyroid health. 

#3 Protect against disease

Some nuts, such as almonds, are packed full of antioxidants. When consumed, these plant compounds protect the body from free radicals that cause oxidative stress, potentially leading to heart disease, premature aging, and some types of cancer.

Walnuts in particular are a great source of antioxidants, with some research showing that they have a greater capacity for fighting free radicals than fish.

Along with ALAs, other omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts like pinolenic acid (PNLA) have anti-inflammatory effects, which studies indicate may stop cancer from spreading.

Incorporating High-Protein Nuts into Your Diet

As we’ve mentioned, nuts have an incomplete protein content because they don’t contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that you need to get through your diet. 

Although they work as a quick high-protein snack, combining nuts with other foods is therefore the best way to experience the benefits that complete protein sources can offer.

To achieve this, try using nuts to add a boost of protein to your favorite meals. For example, some varieties, such as pine nuts, can be toasted and used to add an extra crunch to salads. Combine with basil, parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil to make your own pesto and serve on a sandwich or mixed with pasta. 

If you’ve got more of a sweet tooth, add a handful of nuts, your favorite dried fruits, and dark chocolate to make a trail mix. This can be handy as a pre-workout snack, an after-dinner treat, or sprinkled on top of yogurt for a higher-protein snack. 

Nut butters and spreads are another great way to increase the protein content of meals and snacks. Spread peanut butter on toast and top with bananas for a balanced meal containing proteins, healthy fats, carbs, and a range of vitamins. 

Alternatively, try incorporating nuts into sauces – peanut butter makes a rich, yet deliciously sweet satay sauce that can be poured onto chicken and served with rice.

Considerations and Precautions

Not everyone can eat nuts to boost their daily dose of protein – it’s estimated that around 6 million people in the US have a peanut allergy, and 3.9 million are allergic to tree nuts. 

When nuts are consumed, these people may experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that sends the body into shock and can stop you from breathing. Some of the other signs of allergic reaction to look out for include:

  • Itching of the throat, eyes, mouth, or skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms after eating nuts, seek emergency medical help as soon as possible.

Despite being a great source of protein, nuts are relatively high in calories for their size. Eating more calories than you burn will put your body in a caloric surplus, which, over time, can cause weight gain and increase your risk of developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

It’s therefore vital to be mindful of portion sizes, and consume nuts only as part of a balanced diet. Rather than relying on them as your main protein source, try to eat plenty of lean meats and poultry, legumes, soy-based foods like tofu, low-fat dairy products, and eggs too.

A Word From Our RD

Expert image border HR_author_photo_Edibel
Edibel Quintero, RD
Medical advisor for Health Reporter

For most people, it’s recommended to get between 10 and 35% of their total calories from protein. If you’re an average sedentary adult, this equates to around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

As older adults begin to lose muscle mass with age, they require around 1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram each day. You may also need to consume higher amounts of protein if you exercise regularly, which can help to maintain or build muscle mass.

Although protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, eating more than 2 grams per kilogram may push you over your daily calorie limit, putting you at risk of weight gain. To avoid this, try tracking your protein intake using a nutrition app, which can also provide you with some recommendations for high-protein, healthy foods and meal ideas.

FAQs

Are nuts a complete source of protein?

No, nuts are an incomplete source of protein as they don’t contain all nine of the essential amino acids that you need to get through your diet. Pair nuts with whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread to make a complete amino acid profile.

How many nuts should I eat daily to meet my protein needs?

The amount of nuts you’ll need to eat to meet your protein needs is likely to take you over the daily calorie limit. It’s therefore recommended to stick to the serving size of 30 grams, or 1 ounce, of nuts per day, and eat leaner protein sources to reach your goals.

Can I rely solely on nuts for my protein intake?

Nuts are high in calories due to their fat content, so they shouldn’t be solely relied on to meet your protein needs. Instead, try to eat them alongside complete protein sources like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and soy-based foods to meet your protein goal.

Conclusion

From peanuts to macadamias, many nuts make great sources of plant-based protein for those hoping to add an extra boost to their daily diets. Try to include a range of nuts, nut butters, and milks in your meals and snacks to elevate the taste, texture, and nutritional profile. 

However, remember that nuts are incomplete sources of protein. You should therefore eat them alongside other high-protein foods to provide your body with the full range of essential amino acids. 

Got a tip for incorporating more nuts into your diet, or a family favorite recipe? Share your nut-based tips and tricks in the comments below, and get some inspiration to jazz up your daily meals.

Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
Edna Skopljak, MD, is a medical advisor for the Health Reporter, a general practitioner who also worked as a medical doctor at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology. In addition to clinical work, she has years of experience in medical research as an editor at a prestigious medical journal.
The article was fact checked by Edibel Quintero, RD
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HR_author_photo_Edna
Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
HR_author_photo_Edibel
Fact checked by Edibel Quintero, RD
Last update: November 28, 2023
12 min read 224 Views 0 Comments
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