Nuts: To eat or not to eat? 
By Walter Sorochan

Posted: January 11, 2021.

Nuts are actually seeds enclosed by a protective outer covering or hard shell. The term "nuts" refers to tree nuts like almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. Despite their name, peanuts are legumes like peas and beans and share some of the same beneficial properties.  

Nuts grow on trees, except for peanuts that are a legume and grow in the soil:  1

Other edible plant seeds include sunflower, flax, pumpkin, pine, poppy, psyllium and chia seeds. Beans are seeds that are rich in protein and other nutrients.

You should be aware that there is controversy about nuts and seeds and whether raw nuts are actually safe to eat.  Most nutritional articles, including Recommended Daily Index [RDI], overlook this controversy. Even respected university food experts at Harvard Medical School  2   3  focus on fat content and lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease; but fail to provide bad information about nuts. Yes, they espouse about nuts being full of nutrients that help regulate diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but neglect to mention that inhibitors in shells of nuts and seeds can prevent absorption of minerals and are actually nourishing.

Despite their name, peanuts are legumes like peas and beans and share some of the same beneficial properties. 4

So what is the hidden truth about nuts and seeds as food? Well, we do not have all the definitive scientific research at this time.  Self-professed experts write articles about nutrition while lacking knowledge about nutrition. It seems that you will not die from eating nuts although some persons may be allergic to nuts and seeds. But, this should not deter us from reviewing what we should know about nuts and seeds.

Long ago nuts were considered unhealthy because of their relatively high fat content. Higdon, researcher at Linus Pauling Institute, however, suggests that regular tree nuts and legumes are an important part of a healthy diet. Although the fat content of nuts is relatively high (13-20 grams (g)/ounce), most of the fats in nuts are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated [good] fats rather than saturated [bad] fats found in meats.

A summary by Higdon below displays nuts as good sources of several micronutrients, as well as unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, but overlook to mention phytochemicals and flavonoids:   5


Table 1 below lists minerals for selected nuts and seed, using analysis [ ].

Table 1: Minerals in Nuts & Seeds
Nutrients Serv Cals Fat Fib B Ca Cu Fe K Mg Mn Na P Se S Zn
Units   Kcal g g mg mg mg mg mg mg mg mg mg mcg mg mg
Almonds 23 kernals 164 14 3.5   76 .29 1.0 208 77 0.62 0.28 136 1.2   0.9
Brazil 1 oz 187 19 2.1   45.4 .49 .69 187 107   .85 206 .544   1.15
Cashews 1 oz 163 13 .9   12.8 .63 1.7 160 74   4.5 139 3.3   1.6
Flaxseed 1tbsp ground 37 3 1.9   17.9 .09 .40 60 27 .17 2.1 45 1.8   0.3
Hazelnuts 10 nuts 88 8.5 1.4   16 .24 .66 95 23 .87 0.0 41 0.3   .34
Peanuts 1 oz Spanish 162 14 2.7   30 .26 1.1 211 53 .75 6.2 110 2.0   .60
Pecans 1oz = 19 halves 196 20 2.7   19.8 .34 .72 116 34 1.3 0.0 79 1.1   1.3
Pistachios 1 oz, roasted, no salt 162 1.6 2.9   30 .37 1.1 285 31   1.7 2285 2.8   .66
Sunflower 1 oz roasted, no salt 165 14 2.6   20 .52 1.1 241 37   186 327 23   1.5
Walnuts 1 oz, roasted, no salt 185 18 1.9   28 .45 .82 125 45   .57 98 1.4   .88

The mineral values in the nuts exemplify the source of rich nutrients.

There have been outbreaks of Salmonella infection from eating raw almonds, supposedly caused by poor hygiene of farm workers. This spurred CDC and California Almond Growers to require all almonds to be pasteurized. Pasteurization destroys some amount of nutrients in almonds. Almonds are the only nut requiring legal pasteurization. Some nuts are fumigated with propylene oxide gas, raising safety questions. The lack of good information about nut safety fans the controversy. 6

Plant Inhibitors: There is a health related issue with nuts and seeds. Grains, nuts, legumes and seeds are rich in enzymes, nutrients and enzyme inhibitors. Inhibitors are protein substances that bind to a hibernating plant enzyme and decrease or interfere with nut/seed enzyme's activity. Inhibitors protect seeds from predators like microorganisms and insects, allow seeds to lie dormant [ storage ] and wait for good growth conditions; like rain and sunshine warmth, to begin sprouting and grow into a young new plant. Inhibitors nullify human digestive enzymes from working on them. 7  8  9

If you planted a raw almond in the ground you would get an almond tree, and if you planted some raw pumpkin seeds in the ground they would grow into pumpkins, but unfortunately almost all of the nuts and seeds that are sold in stores these days have been roasted, toasted, or pasteurized in order to extend their shelf life and these heating processes usually kill the nuts and seeds as well as cause them to lose some of their nutritional value. To make matters worse most of commercial for sale nuts also have added salt and added oils. When you roast almonds at 350 degrees, then dip them in oil and salt you are taking a "health food" and converting it into a "junk food"! It may taste good but has very little good nutrition.

Peanuts and beans are a good example of the problem with nuts and seeds.

Peanuts have an outer shell to keep peanut seed protected from the outside. The seed has another outer brown protective skin that has inhibitor chemicals that make the seeds distasteful and even poisonous to predators; allowing seeds to survive. When the outer peanut skin becomes soaked with rain water, the water leaches out most of the inhibitor. With the inhibitor removed by the water, the nutrients in the peanut seed begin to release the stored vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins. These nutrients allow the seed to sprout and germinate a root, stem and grow into a plant. However, raw seeds are safe to eat when the water leaches out the inhibitor enzymes. Humans may be unaware that inhibitor enzymes in seeds like beans and peanuts can cause allergies and other health problems.  

Soaking raw seeds in warm acidic water deactivates enzyme inhibitors and makes nutrients in grains, nuts and seeds more digestible. 10 

Stevens summarizes why nuts need to be soaked:  11 

We should soak all the nuts, seeds and grains we eat — to better access their nutrition and create a gentler digestive process.

However, besides the lack of mineral absorption the good news is that most anti-nutrients can be reduced or eliminated by roasting, sprouting or fermenting. Instead, stick with products that contain roasted or sprouted nuts that have no or fewer anti-nutrients.  12  

The nutrient content of nuts varies with the locality where it is grown and mineral contents of the soil. Brazil nuts grown in areas of Brazil with selenium-rich soil may provide more than 100 µg of selenium in one nut, while those grown in selenium-poor soil may provide 10 times less. So diet/food analysis and the Recommended Dietary Index [RDI] are not exact and only an approximation.

Recommended Dietary Intake: Recommended serving amount in USA is poorly defined.

Regular nut consumption, equivalent to 1 ounce of nuts five times weekly, has been consistently associated with significant reductions in risk of coronary heart disease in epidemiological studies. Consuming nuts daily as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat has been found to lower serum total and LDL-cholesterol in a number of controlled clinical trials. Since an ounce of most nuts provides at least 160 calories (kcal), simply adding an ounce of nuts daily to one's habitual diet without eliminating other foods may result in weight gain. 13  

Allergy Alert: Peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common foods to trigger allergic reactions, potentially severe (anaphylaxis) and fatal. Such reactions can be triggered by a primary antibody response against some nut proteins or by antibodies raised against protein in pollen but cross-reacting with structurally similar proteins in nuts. Mixed method-based estimates of peanut allergy in US children suggest that the condition is increasingly prevalent and ranges between 2 and 5%.  14 

Conclusion: Recommendations to include nuts in the daily diet are based on the preventive link to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Enhanced wellbeing is overlooked. We need more research on the benefits of nuts.


1 Robertson Ruairi, "The top 9 nuts to eat for better health," Healthline, September 26, 2018.  Accessed from:

2 Delichatsios Helen, "How to eat nuts the healthy way," Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, November 12, 2012.  Accessed from:

3 Australia Dept Health & Human Services, "Nuts and seeds," State Government of Victoria, Australia, 2020. Accessed from:

4 Higdon Jane and staff, "Nuts," Linus Pauling Institute, 2020. Accessed from:  

5 Higdon (2020)

6 Foodtolive Team, Are pasteurized nuts good or bad: Reasons behind nuts pasteurization," November 28, 2016.  Accessed from:

7 DeFelice Karen, "Frequently Asked Questions about enzymes," Enzyme Stuff, August 25, 2005. [ adapted excerpt from book 'Enzymes for Autism and other Neurological Conditions'.]  Accessed from:

8 Rojek Mark, "Enzyme Nutrition Therapy," Nexus Magazine, 2003.  Accessed from:

9 Rojek Mark, "Enzymes as therapeutic tools in healing," Life Enthusiast,  Accessed from:

10 Fallon Sally and Mary G. Enig, "Edward Howell," [Food enzymes] Weston A. Price Foundation, January 01, 2000. Fallon: Food enzymes 2000 The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, ©1999. Accessed from:

11 Stevens Megan, "How and why to soak nuts and seeds,"  Accessed from:

 12 Kummer Michael, "Best nuts and seeds for Keto,"  December 21, 2020. Accessed from: 

13 Higdon (2020)

14 Higdon (2020)