Nuts are a fantastic snack, especially when you’re on a low-carb diet: they’re full of good fats, some of them are loaded with potassium and magnesium (see my supplements article for why those are important), they’ve got lots of protein, and most of them are very low carb. But which nuts are the best for a low-carb diet?
This article will look at the pros and cons of different nuts (and provide a super handy chart detailing all the important stuff!), to help you make an informed decision about YOUR snacking habits.
One thing to be aware of (if you’re not already), however, is that nuts are very nutrient dense. They’re high in calories as a result of their high fat content. That means that, while they ARE a healthy and generally excellent low-carb snack, you really have to avoid mindless snacking on them – remember, if you’re aiming to lose weight, you still need to be eating at a caloric deficit (check my keto diet page for a calorie calculator).
|Nut (30g)||Calories||Protein (g)||Fiber (g)||Net Carbs (g)||Total Fat (g)|
As you can see, for a reasonably small serving (30g/1oz, which is quite small), there’s not a huge amount of variation in calories. Of course, if you eat more than that, the differences can add up, so it’s worth being aware of. But this doesn’t tell us which nuts are best for a low-carb diet.
The clear winner for protein per serve are pepitas (or pumpkin seeds), at 9g per serve. They have slightly less fiber than some of the other nuts (2g per serve), but also low carbs (2.4g per serve), and high fat (14.7g per serve). They’re also ridiculously high in magnesium and potassium (165mg and 240mg respectively), which makes them an excellent choice, and contain high antioxidant levels (although I’m not sold on that being as critical as people often think).
If you don’t like pepitas for some reason (they’re not as flavourful or crunchy as some other nuts, and they’re not my personal favourite for that reason), then good alternatives are peanuts (7.5g of protein/serve), almonds, pistachios, or sunflower seeds (6.3g/serve). Of those, I’d be inclined to choose almonds, for their lower net-carbs and higher fiber content. Calorie-wise, they’re all pretty identical, so you can choose whichever you want, as long as you’re not eating too many – if you are, the high carb-content of pistachios will be a problem.
Fiber and Net-carbs
Here, the obvious winner is almonds. Their 3.6g per serve, combined with 3g of net carbs, makes them a great choice for bolstering digestive health while keeping carbs low. They also appear to provide benefits for blood glucose stabilization – eating almonds with other carbs reduces the glycemic index, which causes blood sugar to spike less. The other benefits are that almonds are readily available year round, and often in a variety of flavours (my personal favourite is smoked – they’re delicious!).
If almonds aren’t your thing, pistachios also have reasonably high fiber, but also come with 5.1g of net carbs per serve – not ideal on a low-carb diet. They’re fine as an occasional treat, but I wouldn’t recommend them as a regular nut-snack. They do, however, have high levels of potassium (over 300mg per serve), so the occasional serving of them makes a great supplement!
Another, slightly less common choice, are hazelnuts – their 2.9g fiber per serve, only 2.1g of net carbs, and around 200mg potassium makes them a great alternative. If only nutella wasn’t so loaded with sugar…
Fat, delicious fat
When looking at the best nut for fat, we want to consider not just the total amount of fat, but also the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat. Saturated fat has typically had a pretty poor rap in the media, blamed for all sorts of negative health effects like clogged arteries and obesity (when really, we know that obesity is simply caused by eating too much in general). However, it turns out that saturated fat actually isn’t all that bad for us after all (you still still try to aim for moderation though).
Does that mean that we can just ignore unsaturated fats? Well no, not really: while saturated fats are likely far less bad than we’ve been led to believe, unsaturated fats have more proven health benefits, meaning that relatively speaking, they’re better for you.
So which nuts have the best ratio of saturated/unsaturated fats? This is where it gets a little more complicated…
If we look at saturated fat as a proportion of total fat (lower being better): Hazelnuts (7.4% of total fat is saturated) very narrowly beat out almonds (7.6%) and pecans (8.3%).
If we look at polyunsaturated (the best) fat as a proportion of total fat (higher is better): Walnuts blow everyone out of the water, with 72% of their total fat being polyunsaturated. The next closest are sunflower seeds, with 45%.
If we look at the ratio between saturated and polyunsaturated fats (lower is better): Walnuts are still clearly winning, with saturated fats only 13% of the polyunsaturated fats. Then we have sunflower seeds (saturated fats 19.6% of polyunsaturated) and pecans (27.3%).
Why am I looking at polyunsaturated rather than mono? Because, while monounsaturated fats are likely better than saturated, the effects are less well-known than those of polyunsaturated. Given that they’re both likely pretty good, I wouldn’t worry too much. But if I did analyses for monounsaturated as well, your eyes would glaze over and you’d get bored.
So, what’s the best nut for fats? Pretty clearly walnuts. Given that they also have antiflammatory properties, they’re a good option for a snack.
While other intangible factors (like price, which varies) may sway people one way or the other, for the best all-round nut, it’s hard to choose between almonds, pepitas, and walnuts – they all have decent protein, fiber, and ratios of fats, with fairly low net carbs. Honestly, it’s basically down to personal preference – walnuts are slightly higher in calories, so that may factor in, but not really enough to make a huge difference.
Winner: Almonds, pepitas, walnuts
I didn’t really go into the negatives, because nuts in general are pretty good. However, from a purely low-carb perspective cashews are a very bad choice: with 8.1g net carbs per serving they can very easily tip you out of ketosis (if that’s your goal). Pair that with the fact that (in my opinion) they’re the tastiest, and you have a recipe for disastrous over-snacking. They’re also quite low in fiber and polyunsaturated fats. If you must eat them, make it very occasional and keep it moderated!
Loser: Cashews, hands down
As always, hope you enjoyed my breakdown! If you disagree with my verdict (or if I’ve missed a nut you think should be included), let me know in the comments!