Nuts and seeds have made their way into the public limelight as healthy snacks. As the adage goes, one handful a day is good for cardiovascular health and reduces risk of heart disease and stroke.
The truth – some nuts are fantastic for your health, some are not. Their high omega-6 content, high calorie density and susceptibility to being overeaten can contribute to obesity and poor health. The possible effects of choosing the wrong nuts? Chronic inflammation, weakened immune system, higher stress levels, and an inability to lose fat.
Luckily, there’s a science to choosing the best nuts for you. While all nuts have beneficial nutrients, the most important to recognize is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Harvard Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Dr. Frank Sacks, provides a great rundown on the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids:
“We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”
The humble omega-3 is the most important of all fatty acids as our modern diets often lack it The optimal amount of consumption is a 1:1 omega-6/omega-3 ratio. The more omega-3s, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced cancer cell proliferation, decreased mortality (70%!), and improved breathing. Seriously.
Nut and seed sources actually provide a precursor to the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, found commonly in fish and pastured animals. omega-3 fatty acids in nuts and plants are called Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), a precursor to EPA and DHA. So technically speaking, fish > plant, nut, and seed sources of omega-3’s. That said, both ALA and EPA/DHA are fantastic health boosters and necessary for life.
What’s Wrong with Omega-6’s?
Good question. The answer – nothing is wrong with omega-6’s directly. It’s the ratio that’s important:
Excess omega−6 fatty acids affect the health benefits of omega−3 fats because they compete for the same rate-limiting enzymes. The higher proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fat in the diet can shift a physiological state in the tissues toward the creation of many diseases: pro-inflammatory , pro-thrombotic (clot-forming) and pro-constrictive (nerve pain).
So which nuts and seeds are going to bulletproof your health? Check out the table below.
|Food||Size (1oz/28g)||Calories (kcal)||Omega-3 (g)||Omega-6 (g)||6:3 ratio (rounded)||Other||Rating|
|Almonds||1 oz||167||0.0||3.5||Infinite||Manganese, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Fiber||C-|
|Brazil Nuts||1 oz||(in progress)||1000 : 1||Selenium||C|
|Chestnuts, roasted||1 oz||69||.026||2.17||8.3:1||Great ratio, fiber||B|
|Chia seeds||1 oz||137||4.9||1.6||0.3 : 1||Manganese, Phosphorus, Calcium, Fiber||A+|
|Flax seeds||1 oz||(in progress)||1.8||0.4||0.2:1||Magnesium, Phosphorus||A+|
|Hazelnuts, roasted||1 oz||181||.017||2.35||140:1||Manganese, Copper, Vitamin E, Fiber||C|
|Macadamia Nuts||1 oz||201||.0549||.365||7:1||Great ratio, but high calorie||C|
|Pecans||1 oz||199||.28||5.48||20:1||Manganese, Copper||C|
|Pine Nuts||1 oz||188||0.03||9.4||313:1||Manganese (5x most nuts), Magnesium, Copper, Phosphorus, Vitamin K, Vitamin E||D|
|Pistachios, roasted||1 oz||160||0.07||2.8||40:1||Manganese, Copper||C|
|Pumpkin seeds, whole, roasted||1 oz||125||0.02||2.5||125:1||Zinc, Magnesium||D|
|Sesame seeds, roasted||1 oz||158||0.1||5.78||58:1||Manganese, Copper, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron||C+|
|Walnuts, English||1 oz||183||2.6||10.8||4.2:1||Manganese, Copper||A+|
(sources: NutritionData and Tufts)
Things to Consider
All Omega-6 and Omega-3 facts considered, every nut (that isn’t a peanut or pumpkin seed) is going to be a huge step up from other food choices. A handful of any of these is a good supplement to a diet, and certainly outranks fruit snacks, soda, fruit juices, and most processed carbohydrates. Just to put nuts into perspective, almonds have been linked with a decrease in cardiovascular disease, improved immune system function, and improved brain function. And I gave that a C-. That should put the power of chia seeds or flax seeds into context.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with a few nuts and seeds. Just don’t go overboard. The high calorie nature of nuts means it is very easy to overeat them. Stick with a handful at max. The only exceptions to my rule: chia and flaxseeds. Oh, and chestnuts are rated so highly because they have almost no fat. The bulk of its content is complex carbohydrates and fiber – an oddity among nuts.
Want to know more about the “Other Benefits” functions of vitamins and minerals? Check out these 2 giant cheat sheets: vitamins and minerals.
Questions, data, or seething hatred? Let me know in the comments!
9 replies on “Which Nut is The Healthiest? Omega-3 Ratios in Nuts and Seeds”
I eat a lot of milkproducts with low 6/3 ratio,fish and seafood with very low ratio, non GMO canola oil, coldpressed flax oil, walnuts with low 6/3 ratio so I think I can eat homemade peanut butter, tahine, all other nuts, some sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and maybee some other stuff. I eat very little arachidonic acid compared to meat eaters. Yes I don’t call them omnivores if they exclude grains, milkproducts, legumes, root vegitables, fish etc. AA is much worse for inflammation, but GLA and CLA are considered anti inflammatory. Birds have a bad 6/3 ratio, also much of the meat and organ meat and they use to have a high ratio of AA. So why nuts, seeds, legumes and grains? It is a complement for vegitarians and pescetarians for protein, minerals, important vitamins,phytonutrients etc. I am just a despised pesceterian that gets evrything I need from reel food so eat what you like it is your body but I find a lot of health desinformation on the internet.
How do you get that ratio for walnuts? 2 grams omega 3 to 10 grams omega 6, can’t be 4 to 1. I didn’t check other ratios because they were probable but this one doesn’t make sense.
Nevermind, i thought it was the omega3 to omega 6 but its the opposite. Sorry.
Frankly, I don’t know how you can figure a ratio if you don’t have the individual numbers for the 3’s and the 6’s. 14 nuts listed and 5 of the 14 you don’t have the data needed to figure a ratio, so apparently a 1/3 you faked or got from elsewhere. If you are just copying Someone else’s information who also didn’t have those individual numbers — all I have to say is you’re a pretty bad write/researcher. You surely can’t come up with a ratio without the numbers and without the numbers how do you grade something when you don’t even know if what you are copying is correct. And then of the 14 nuts listed, 10 of them you couldn’t even take the time to do a basic search to find out what minerals or other benefits they contribute to our diet. And further, even the ones you did list — you didn’t give any actual data there either, i.e., such and such milligrams per what volume, etc.
This is very SAD and you surely didn’t impress me to follow your site. I follow people who do their own research, or at the very least, they verify other’s data several times before claiming it as their own. Too many people lazily regurgitate other people’s garbage and the bad information just goes round and round. It’s spread to the point that it seems to be fact when it is just the opposite. Some people work off the theory if you repeat a lie or misrepresentation long enough, eventually the people you know want to believe the worst about something or someone, will be convinced. And those who are just generally feeble brained anyway, will begin to believe the lie because they’ve heard it for so long. I call all of these folks, the “kool-aid drinkers.
So please, before you write an article on a particular subject, and/or try to convince us you know what you are talking about — do your research.
Happy to answer each point individually — I really do appreciate the feedback.
ROSE: Frankly, I don’t know how you can figure a ratio if you don’t have the individual numbers for the 3’s and the 6’s. 14 nuts listed and 5 of the 14 you don’t have the data needed to figure a ratio, so apparently a 1/3 you faked or got from elsewhere.
A: I wrote this back in 2016, so I can’t entirely remember which individual links I used to pull the data. But, let’s see…
I know part of the data came from a Tufts paper. The other parts of the data came from nutritiondata.self.com, which is in the source below the table. At the time of research, I pulled the ratio.
The table could use some updating. I’ve noted that here….https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3095/2
This entry notes a 1:125 ratio, which is a little better than the 1:315 I listed before. I’ll go through the table later today to update the numbers according to the most recent data I see there.
I did corroborate the general trend from other searches as well. Numbers were never exact, but that’s expected. I only cited the original data I pulled from Nutrition Data and Tufts.
I think a good improvement would be to have the source inline per row, and I’ll make sure that tables going forward have that info inline for easier understanding. This would make it easier to know when a specific URL changes its value.
Unforutnately, I do not have access to lab-grade equipment to do this myself — would love to, though!
ROSE: And then of the 14 nuts listed, 10 of them you couldn’t even take the time to do a basic search to find out what minerals or other benefits they contribute to our diet.
A: At the time of writing, my biggest concern with nuts is the:
1) content and ratio of omega3-to-omega-6 and
2) energy content. I chose philosophically to focus on these factors.
Every person gets to decide what they believe is best
A) for his/herself and
B) is best for a general recommendation without personalized datapoints. In my experience moving myself and others I know towards better general health and fitness, I deliberately choose to focus on the ratio and other factors, not the minutiae of every single individual vitamins and mineral found in every single nut.
If you have distaste that I used the word “healthiest” to describe a food or food class because it’s so contextual, then I agree with you. But if people on the internet are searching for it, then it makes sense to write it in if I believed it satisfied point B above. I would welcome you to research and provide your own framework for deciding “healthiest” regarding nuts.
ROSE: And further, even the ones you did list — you didn’t give any actual data there either, i.e., such and such milligrams per what volume, etc.
A: This is a web design decision for me. The table is small, and you cannot jam every single piece of information in a single table. I chose the columns I chose because I felt it sufficient for the framework (that is, I focus on nuts for omega-3-to-6 ratio and general micronutrition trend). If extra research is required on the part of readers, I know they are competent enough to discover it themselves.
ROSE: This is very SAD and you surely didn’t impress me to follow your site. I follow people who do their own research, or at the very least, they verify other’s data several times before claiming it as their own.
A: That is fair. I do wish I had better equipment to analyze these sorts of things. Would you mind sharing the other blogs whose nutritional content you’ve been following? I’d love to see how they’re writing and researching if it’ll improve mine.
ROSE: It’s spread to the point that it seems to be fact when it is just the opposite. Some people work off the theory if you repeat a lie or misrepresentation long enough, eventually the people you know want to believe the worst about something or someone, will be convinced. And those who are just generally feeble brained anyway, will begin to believe the lie because they’ve heard it for so long. I call all of these folks, the “kool-aid drinkers.
A:I understand your frustration about decision-making and hype science. In an ideal world, everything would be perfectly researched and be 100% applicable to all situations. Unfortunately, there are limitations (and exceptions) to even the most well-intended and well-researched topics, frameworks and ideologies. There is a counterpoint to all generalized recommendations since we are both so similar YET so different.
We can’t wait for perfect to share what we think we know though. It’s one thing to share opinion without any knowledge/framework for context. It’s another to share reasonably considered information. — which is what I believe I did here. It’s a duty to share and have discourse over what we think is best. I don’t believe I’ve hyped up anything dangerous nor unbelievable in this post.
If you have it accessible, could you post a link or two to any framework or ideology you deem infallible? I’m confident I can find ways that it could be in the wrong context for certain individuals.
Your chart states walnuts as having higher omega-6 than omega-3, yet you have rated it “A+”. Why do you recommend the walnuts if it has a higher omega 6 to 3 ratio?
Walnuts have a pretty damn good Omega 6:3 ratio for a nut. It’s not as incredible as seeds (which can have more 3s than 6s), but it’s still great.
The other question you may have is, why are brazil nuts rated highly despite the high ratio of Omega 6 to 3? The answer is selenium, which honestly deserves its own article. There are more preferential sources for selenium, but brazil nuts is a reasonable one.
I was wondering the same thing b/c the ratio of 6:3 is poor, and the fat ratios were the focus of the article.
Why weren’t Macadamia Nuts mentioned?