If there was a food group that provided high-quality protein and healthy fats, was super-convenient, high in fiber, and tasted great, you’d expect nutrition experts to be shouting it from the rooftops. Especially if that food was one of the best sources of the heart-healthy, energy-generating super mineral magnesium – and on top of all that, it also contained plant sterols that lower cholesterol.
Well, that food group actually does exist! All of those seemingly too-good-to-be-true nutrition facts can be found in nuts – but not all nuts are created equal. Or, more accurately, not all nuts are prepared equally. There are healthy nuts and unhealthy nuts – you just need to understand some important food industry basics to know which is which.
The most common kind of nuts available are called “roasted nuts” – but if you look at the ingredients in roasted nuts, you’ll see that they include vegetable oil and salt. Why would you add oil to a food that already gets 60-80% of its calories from fat? This is because they actually use that oil to fry the nuts. It turns out that roasted nuts aren’t actually roasted at all – they’re fried. When you fry a healthy, nutritious food like nuts, you end up with an unhealthy fried food. The added salt really just adds to the problem.
So why are roasted nuts often fried instead of roasted? Making nuts this way has many advantages for the nut processors and growers: The nuts don’t have to be fresh; the oil doesn’t have to be fresh or of high quality; and, of course, fried salty crunchy foods are easy to keep eating – meaning you’ll have to buy more. Anytime you see oil on the list of ingredients in nuts, it can only mean one thing: They are fried.
To get truly roasted, you have to look for “dry-roasted nuts.” These will not list oil in the ingredients. However, there is no guarantee that these are fresh, so your best bet is to purchase nuts from a store that sells a lot of nuts.
The best way to make sure you’re eating the highest quality nuts is to buy them raw, and from a vendor that has a lot of turnover, so you are more likely to get fresh nuts. Then, if you like the taste of roasted nuts, you can roast them yourself in the oven or toaster oven.
If you eat fresh, raw or dry-roasted nuts in moderation, you really can’t go wrong. If you’re trying to use nuts to lower cholesterol, almonds, hazelnuts (filberts), pecans, and walnuts are your best choice. If you’re trying to supplement your diet with all-important omega-3 fats, walnuts are your best bet. If you’re looking to add magnesium to your diet, pretty much any nut will do the trick. And if want to eat something that is a good source of protein, peanuts, while actually a legume related to beans and peas, are an excellent, simple, and tasty choice.
Before going out to buy nuts, beware: Nuts are a common food allergen, with peanuts leading the way for severe, anaphylactic-type reactions. But if you don’t have such allergies, there are few foods that are as simple, tasty, and healthy as nuts.