The Best Nuts for Your Vegan Diet

As a health conscious eater, nuts have been an important part of my diet for years.

They are particularly a great source of protein, fiber, and omega-3s (healthy fats). Undoubtedly, they are one of the healthiest foods there are for your heart and brain. In fact, a handful of nuts a day can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 21%, thanks to their richness of unsaturated fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals. They are a nutritional powerhouse and make powerful healthy snacks on the go.

But not being a vegetarian or vegan myself for much of my life, I’d never had the urgency or need to rely on plant-based foods like nuts for a majority of my protein and omega-3 fatty acids. There were fish and eggs for that! That changed this summer when I decided to go vegan for a month and went completely herbivore. Suddenly, treating nuts as one collective protein-rich fat source wasn’t good enough for me. I needed to be more selective in what nuts to eat and for how much. I had to rely on very foods like nuts for the protein and healthy fats while staying conscious of my calorie intake just like everyone else.

After all, nuts do contain hefty calories (whopping 200 calories in one serving of pecans!) and can quite easily and quickly break my daily calorie budget when eaten in excess. To be a successful vegetarian or vegan, using nuts strategically to power up and properly fill my daily nutritional needs became critically important. There is certainly a right and wrong way of going vegan (nutritionally speaking!), and knowing each nut’s nutrition profile and finding out which nut gives you the best nutritional bang for your calorie buck became my first mission.

 

So, here’s a quick nut list and how they stack up against each other. The nutrition info is per ounce. Note that there is no RDA percentage for protein. It’s left blank since everyone’s daily recommended protein intake is different. Harvard Medical School suggests you calculate your own protein requirement by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36.

Almonds

Almonds are an excellent source of protein, packing in 6 g per serving. This can be as much as 15% of your daily protein intake depending on your needs. Almonds also contain vitamin E, an important vitamin for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Vitamin E also helps to protect your cell membranes from damage, help you lose weight, and lower your blood pressure when combined with a healthy diet. Almond is considered the most nutritionally dense nut, meaning they offer the most overall nutrients per ounce.

Calories = 162

Fat = 14g (9 of which are monounsaturated fat, the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil).

Fiber = 4g (14% of the RDA)

protein = 6 g (13% of the RDA for a sedentary woman)

vitamin E = 7.3 mg (37% of the RDA)

Manganese = 0.6 g (32% of the RDA)

Folate = 14 mg (3% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 76 mg (20% of the RDA)

Calcium = 74 mg (7% of the RDA)

Iron = 1 mg (6% of the RDA)

 

Almonds can be eaten raw in salads or added to smoothies for a nutty flavor. It can also be made into a paste and used as almond butter.

Cashews

Cashews compared to other nuts are slightly lower in calories while still providing 5 grams of protein per serving. They are also considered to be an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral that helps with building proteins and overall energy. They also contain phosphorous, another essential mineral for building strong bones and teeth. They also contain a small amount of iron for keeping your skin, hair, and nails healthy.

Calories = 155

Fat = 12g (2g sat)

Fiber = 1g (4% of the RDA)

protein = 5g

vitamin E = 0.6 mg (3% of the RDA)

Manganese = 0.5 g (23% of the RDA)

Phosphorus = 166 mg (17% of the RDA)

Folate = 7 mg (2% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 81.1 mg (20% of the RDA)

Calcium = 0.3 mg (1% of the RDA)

Iron = 1.9 mg (10% of the RDA)

 

Same as almonds, cashews can be eaten raw by themselves or in salads. You can also make cashew milk.

Macadamia Nuts

One of my favorite nuts is macadamia. Born in Hawaii, macadamia nuts were always part of my diet. You’d find them in chocolate, cookies, and even in dressings and sauces, here in Hawaii. They have a buttery flavor that just adds richness to any dishes and desserts, and that’s not surprising, considering macadamia nuts contain 21g of fat per ounce. They are one of the fattiest nuts with high calories and sadly lower protein content. With that said, these tropical nuts are a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals including fiber, vitamin A, iron, B vitamins, and folate. They also contain antioxidants like polyphenols and monounsaturated fats which help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. They are delicious, but eat sparingly!

Calories = 201

Fat = 21g (3g saturated fat)

Fiber = 2g (10% of the RDA)

protein = 2g

vitamin E = 0.6 mg (3% of the RDA)

Manganese = 0.2 g (1% of the RDA)

Folate = 3.1 mg (1% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 36.4 mg (9% of the RDA)

Calcium = 0.3 mg (1% of the RDA)

Iron = 1.9 mg (6% of the RDA)

 

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are fiber rich nuts with a decent amount of protein with less than 200 calories per serving. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are known to help regulate a healthy blood pressure. They also contain B vitamins which are important for proper cells and energy metabolism.

Calories = 176

Fat = 17g (13g are monounsaturated fat– the good kind)

Fiber = 3g (14% of the RDA)

protein = 4 g

vitamin E = 4. 2 mg (21% of the RDA)

Manganese = 0.6 g (32% of the RDA)

Folate = 32 mg (8% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 46 mg (20% of the RDA)

Calcium = 32 mg (3% of the RDA)

Iron = 1.3 mg (7% of the RDA)

 

Peanuts

Peanuts are a good source of dietary fiber, protein, and potassium which helps regulate the body’s water levels and metabolism. They are one of the highest protein nuts with a moderate calorie count. Luckily, adding peanuts to your diet is easy with a wide variety of peanut products on the market from peanut butter to peanut sauces. Though if you are snacking on peanuts, stay away of added salt and roasted nuts as they may contain excess sodium and sugar, which can easily ruin your diet.

Calories = 168

Fat = 15g (2g sat)

Fiber = 3g (11% of the RDA)

protein = 8g

vitamin E = 1.9 mg (10% of the RDA)

Manganese = 0.5 g (26% of the RDA)

Folate = 33.6 mg (6% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 49.3 mg (12% of the RDA)

Calcium = 17.1 mg (2% of the RDA)

Iron = 1.3 mg (2% of the RDA)

 

Pistachios

Pistachios are one of the healthiest nuts among all nuts with a good amount of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and magnesium. Not surprisingly, they are my go-to nut snacks. With many other nuts, one ounce per serving only comes to be about 20 or fewer kernels, but with pistachios, it’s about 49! Additionally, pistachios contain fewer calories, more potassium and vitamin K per serving than other nuts.

Calories = 156

Fat = 12g (2g sat)

Fiber = 3g (12% of the RDA)

protein = 6g

vitamin E = 0.6 mg (3% of the RDA)

Manganese = 0.3 g (17% of the RDA)

Folate = 14.3 mg (4% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 33.9 mg (8% of the RDA)

Calcium = 30 mg (3% of the RDA

Iron = 1.3 mg (6% of the RDA)

 

Pecans

Since pecans only provide 2 g of protein per serving, it may not be very efficient loading up on pecan nuts for the sake of protein. But these holiday staple nuts provide many other reasons to have a serving here and there packing in more than 19 different vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, B, and E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. Just one ounce provides 10 % of the daily recommended fiber intake, which is crucial since most Americans are fiber deficient.

Calories = 193

Fat = 20g (9g sat)

Fiber = 3g (10% of the RDA)

protein = 2g

vitamin E = 0.4 mg (2% of the RDA)

Manganese = 1.3 g (63% of the RDA)

Folate = 6.2 mg (2% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 33.9 mg (8% of the RDA)

Calcium = 0.3 mg (1% of the RDA

Iron = 0.7 mg (6% of the RDA)

 

Walnuts

Walnuts are known as a heart-healthy food because of the high monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids which may help with prevention of heart disease. Omega-3s can also help prevent arthritis and depression. These are my go-to nuts when making vegan pesto. I usually combine almonds and walnuts for nutty pesto that can be spread on everything from pizza to eggplants. Also, if you are short on manganese which helps with absorption of calcium and bone metabolism, walnuts make an excellent source, offering 1g per serving, which accounts for 48% of your recommended daily intake.

Calories = 183

Fat = 18g (2g sat)

Fiber = 2g (8% of the RDA)

protein = 4g

vitamin E = 0.2 mg (1% of the RDA)

Manganese = 1.0 g (48% of the RDA)

Folate = 6.2 mg (2% of the RDA)

Magnesium = 44.2 mg (11% of the RDA)

Calcium = 0.3 mg (3% of the RDA)

Iron = 0.8 mg (5% of the RDA)

 

Final Thoughts

Nuts, in general, are considered healthy and nutritious, containing many essential nutrients like protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin E. But within nuts, there is a great variance in how much of each nutrient each nut contains. In a vegan and vegetarian diet, a nutrient like protein is a bit hard to get. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of sources like nuts and finding out which types offer more protein than others.

Nuts like almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pistachios are always on top of my list being moderate in calories and exceptionally high in protein – 6g per serving! That’s 3 times more than protein found in macadamia nuts or pecans.

But let’s not forget that we are also after nuts’ unsaturated fats which are actually good for us in moderation and other vitamins like vitamin E, manganese, folate, and calcium. Be sure to check each nut’s nutrition profile and make your selection wisely.

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