A cornerstone of vegan, raw, and Paleo diets, nuts may very well be the perfect snack—they’re whole, plant-based, and packed with protein and fiber. Plus, they’re easy to eat on the go. Problem is, it’s hard to feel guilty about going overboard when you know something is so good for your health.
For example, people who consume five or more servings of nuts per week have lower levels of disease-causing inflammation than those who never (or almost never) eat nuts, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. What’s more, people who sub in three servings of nuts per week in place of red meat, processed meat, eggs, or refined grains can also experience lower levels of inflammation.
And, in a 2013 study of nearly 190,000 people published in the New England Journal of Medicine, those who ate a 1-oz serving of nuts daily decreased their risk of dying from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, by 20%. “These people also tend to be leaner, which is a curious finding, considering a serving of nuts is 160 to 200 calories,” says study researcher Charles S. Fuchs, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Fuchs suggests that nuts’ positive effect on energy balance, metabolism, and satiety likely explain how the high-fat snack can actually keep your weight in check.
But this isn’t a free pass to eat peanuts and pistachios by the bagful. “The key is portion size,” says Maureen Tarnus, M.S., R.D., executive director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation. “The FDA-qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease recommends 1.5 oz (about 1/3 cup) per day, and much of the research on nuts and diabetes, weight, and so on has looked at that same amount.”
In terms of variety, “pick whatever nut you like,” advises Fuchs. “They all appear to be providing comparable benefits.” Still, some nuts offer unique health-boosting bonuses, like strengthening bones, boosting braining health, or improving eyesight, so zero-in on these eight.