What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Nuts Every Day
Nuts have gotten much attention recently for their potential health benefits and role in disease prevention. Walking along the grocery aisles, you may notice that a wide array of nuts and nut-based products are available, from drinks to snacks and spreads.
Generally, nuts are rich in heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Still, not all nuts are equal in nutritional value. Some have more of a specific type of nutrient than others—a 2022 article in Food Reviews International revealed the highest nutrient concentration among nut varieties:
Highest-protein nuts: Peanuts, cashews, almonds and pistachios
Highest-fat nuts: Macadamias, Brazil nuts, pine nuts and walnuts
Highest unsaturated-fat nuts: Hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, Brazil nuts and pine nuts
Highest-carbohydrate nuts: Pecans
While certain types have more nutrients than others, you may wonder what actually happens to your body when you eat nuts daily. And, are there certain nuts that you should eat more or less frequently? Here is what the research suggests might happen to your body if you eat nuts every day.
You might improve your LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels
A 2022 review in Food Reviews International noted that healthy individuals and those with elevated lipids levels who consumed 50 to 100 grams of nuts—such as almonds, peanuts, pecans and walnuts—five times a week significantly reduced their LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. They also found that eating hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts may help raise "good" HDL cholesterol levels. Research suggests that phytosterols, a group of lipids present in nuts, may be responsible for decreasing LDL levels. The same review noted that pistachios, pine nuts and almonds have the highest content of phytosterols.
Moreover, almonds, walnuts, pecans and peanuts were also found to reduce total cholesterol levels. One 2020 study in Nutrition and Metabolic Insights suggests that regularly consuming nuts could lead to a 3.75mg/dL reduction in total cholesterol level and lower heart disease risk.
Related: What to Know About Your Cholesterol Levels
You might consume more antioxidants
Nuts, such as almonds, are known to contain flavonoids, a group of compounds naturally present in plant-based foods. They are not only rich in antioxidants, but they may also have the ability to protect you from free radicals that could lead to the hardening of blood vessels (aka atherosclerosis) and increase the risk of heart disease.
Depending on the type of nuts you eat, you may ingest more antioxidants. Specifically, almonds and cashews are noted to have the most significant amounts of tocopherol, a form of vitamin E that is also an antioxidant associated with lower inflammation and cancer risk.
You might lose weight
Some studies suggest that eating nuts, such as tree nuts and peanuts, does not lead to obesity. A 2019 study from Nutrition Research discovered that consuming more than one to two servings of nuts per week may be linked to less weight gain and a decreased risk of overweight and obesity. Another study found that people who ate at least 28 grams of nuts per day (around 1 ounce) had less weight gain and a lower risk of being overweight and obese than those who did not include nuts as part of their diet. This phenomenon could be explained by the presence of protein and fiber, which increase feelings of fullness and reduce hunger.
That said, relying on nuts alone to manage weight may not be a great idea, as there are several factors that come into play for weight management, including the types and portions of food you eat, genetics, your activity level and more. Other studies also noted that eating nuts may not necessarily lead to weight loss, especially for those who are overweight or obese, due to altered appetite sensitivity and regulation.
You might reduce your risk of colon cancer
Nuts have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent tumor formation. A 2021 review from the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that higher nut consumption was associated with lower risk of colon cancer. However, the findings are conflicting. More recent research from the European Journal of Epidemiology and Medicina points out that the relationship between eating nuts and legumes and the risk of colon cancer is weak and needs more research to be substantiated. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to include nuts as part of a balanced eating pattern for other potential health benefits (so long as you're not allergic).
You might increase your sodium intake
While nuts are nutritious, how they are prepared also matters. Roasted salted or flavored nuts can be high in sodium. Eating too much sodium could lead to high blood pressure and put you at higher risk of heart disease, stroke and heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. Try to choose unsalted nuts if you are watching your sodium intake or if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
You might ingest too much of certain micronutrients
Over time, overeating certain types of nuts—specifically Brazil nuts—could lead to selenosis, also known as selenium intoxication. Brazil nuts have the highest concentration of selenium of all nut varieties, with every gram containing 35 micrograms of selenium, which is about two-thirds of the recommended dietary allowance. In other words, eating one to two nuts per day already meets the daily requirement, and a 1-ounce serving contains 544 micrograms of selenium, which is roughly 989% of the RDA. For reference, the maximum daily recommended intake of selenium is 400 micrograms. Regularly eating more than that could lead to fatigue, weakness and burning or prickling sensations—all of which are signs of selenium intoxication.
Which types of nuts should you eat every day?
Generally speaking, each nut type offers different amounts and types of nutrients, so eating a variety of nuts is recommended. That said, it's best to enjoy Brazil nuts in smaller portions and more occasionally to avoid selenium intoxication, as noted above.
Additionally, the portion size of nuts you eat also matters. As much as nuts are nutritious with heart-healthy fats, they are also calorie-dense. As a general rule of thumb, follow the USDA My Plate for an appropriate serving of nuts. Depending on your age and calorie needs, the number of servings of protein you need may differ. One serving of protein is equivalent to 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or 7 walnut halves, or 1 tablespoon of nut butter. Research reported that eating one serving of nuts daily may reduce the risk of heart disease by 27%, compared to those who eat only one serving per week, which lowered the risk by 4%.
The bottom line
If you are not allergic to nuts, it is totally OK to enjoy a small handful of nuts every day (be sure to check for shriveling or blemishes, which can be a sign your nuts have gone bad). If you have specific health concerns, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, you may want to choose unsalted nuts rather than salted or flavored ones. As with any food, eating nuts in moderation may offer potential health benefits. They're perfect for snacking as they are, but you can also include them in recipes like Cranberry-Almond Energy Balls, Cherry-Chocolate Chip Granola Bars or Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups to shake up your routine.