It's not news that nuts and seeds provide healthy fats and nutrients to our bodies, but what's the difference between nut and seed options? Keep reading to find out here.
What's the Difference Between Nut and Seed Options?
Nuts vs Seeds vs Legumes
People often wonder if they can stick to one or two favorite nuts or seeds and still get all the same benefits without having to vary their food choices. We are going to explore what the differences between the various nuts and seeds are and why eating a variety of them is a good idea.
First off, there is a difference between true nuts and seeds themselves. Technically, nuts are the hard-shelled “fruit” of certain plants.
Conversely, seeds are a small edible plant enclosed in a seed coat. Most nuts are seeds, but not all seeds are nuts.
Nuts generally are fruits that have a hard outer shell that doesn’t crack open naturally. Seeds, on the other hand, typically naturally open and free themselves from the shell.
Interestingly, some common (ground) “nuts” commonly used and thought of as nuts, specifically peanuts, actually belong to the legume family and are not a true nut.
Nutritionally speaking, most nuts and seeds generally contain many of the same nutrients. They’re rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber.
But there are unique degrees of nutrition in the different varieties that make certain food choices better sources than others, depending on the nutrient being looked at. Because the separate nuts and seeds offer varying nutrient profiles, getting an assortment rather than sticking to one or two usuals is a good idea.
Below is a deeper look into the more specific nutrient profiles for some of the most common nuts and seeds.
List of Nuts and Seeds You Can Eat
Some types of nuts and seeds you commonly see at the market are:
1. Peanuts & Peanut Butter
Peanuts are particularly high in B vitamins, copper, manganese, protein, molybdenum, phosphorus, and vitamin E.
However, they are more susceptible to molds and fungus, particularly one known as aflatoxin. Aflatoxins are produced by a fungus that can grow on peanuts and are considered to be a carcinogen by the FDA.
Therefore, using moderation with peanuts and peanut butter is recommended.
In addition, a high quality, organic source of peanuts and peanut butter is more likely to contain fewer, if any, aflatoxins.
2. Almonds & Almond Butter
Almonds are particularly high in B vitamins, vitamin E, manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, molybdenum, fiber, monounsaturated fats, and protein.
In their raw, unpasteurized form, almonds can be difficult to find in the United States due to relatively new pasteurization laws. A truly raw, unpasteurized almond is going to provide a higher level of quality, and therefore nutrition, than the pasteurized counterparts.
The healthy fats in almonds help support a healthy, functioning cardiovascular system, but ensure only quality and fresh nuts are used so that the oils have not had the chance to go rancid.
A compound in the skin of almonds has been found to act as a prebiotic, which is food for the good bacteria in our gut.
3. Cashews & Cashew Butter
Cashews are the nuts found in the middle of a cashew apple. They are high in copper, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, protein, and mono and polyunsaturated fats.
When using cashews to make nut butter, it’s best to soak them prior to making the butter to allow for a creamy texture. Because of the high(er) healthy fat content of cashews, coupled with their relatively neutral and creamy taste, cashews make very versatile nut ingredients that can be used to make a variety of foods and recipes, including cheeses, creams, and different spreads.
4. Walnuts and Walnut Butter
Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, B vitamins, molybdenum, manganese, copper, protein, and monounsaturated fats.
Due to its higher omega-3 fatty acid content, walnuts have been thought to be particularly helpful for fighting inflammation (such as gout, arthritis, and other joint and inflammatory issues), heart disease and other cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and healthy brain functioning (including issues such as depression and ADHD).
Because these omega-3 fatty acids are somewhat unstable, it is best to consume walnuts raw and as fresh as possible to ensure the omega oils have not gone rancid.
5. Sunflower Seeds & Butter
Sunflower seeds are packed with B vitamins, vitamin E, copper, manganese, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, healthy fats, dietary fiber, and protein.
Like cashews, sunflower seeds are a more versatile seed that can be used to not only make sunflower seed butter but can also be used to make flour for baking.
6. Pumpkin Seeds & Butter
Pumpkin seeds contain more zinc than any other nut or seed and also contain good amounts of vitamins and minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, healthy fats, protein, and fiber.
7. Sesame Seeds & Butter (aka Tahini)
Sesame seeds are extremely high in calcium, more so than any other nut or seed. They are also good sources of copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, fiber, and protein.
Sesame seed butter (tahini) is also a versatile butter than can be used in a variety of dishes and spreads and can even be added to smoothies, salad dressings, and other such foods for an extra nutritional boost!
Health Benefits of Eating Nuts and Seeds
Eating nuts and seeds on a regular basis offers the following benefits:
1. Lower Risk of Cardiovascular and Heart Disease
Almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans are packed with anti-inflammatory properties. Eating them daily might help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular or heart diseases.
2. Aids in Weight Loss
Want to lose weight the right way? Then swap out your potato chips and fries for nuts and seeds!
Just a few handfuls could help you last hours without feeling the need to eat.
You can pack some in a portable container and then carry it wherever you go. That way, you’ll have access to a healthy, filling snack when you get hungry.
3. Cleanses the Body
Nuts and seeds are loaded with dietary fiber, which helps flush out harmful toxins and chemicals from the body.
Nuts and seeds high in fiber include chia seeds, flax seeds, squash seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried coconut, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and chestnuts. The percent daily value (%DV) for fiber is 25g per day, and a one-ounce portion of high fiber nuts or seeds provide between 9-39% of that daily value. A one-ounce portion of nuts or seeds is roughly equal to a handful.
4. Healthy Fats
Walnuts and flax seeds are a vegan’s best friend when it comes to sourcing quick energy boosts. They have loads of healthy fats that provide long-lasting energy boosts to help you conquer the day like a true champion.
Tip: For best results, try supplementing with Sunwarrior’s Omega-3 with Vegan DHA and EPA. This way, your body gets its daily dose of essential fatty acids from plant-based sources.
5. Lowers LDL Cholesterol Levels
The benefits were clear enough for the FDA in 2003 to issue a "qualified health claim" for peanuts and certain tree nuts -- almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts. The claim allows some nuts and foods made with them to carry this claim: "Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease."
Learn these simple nutty protein bites with Kasia Sitarz in this video from Sunwarrior:
No matter what nut or seed you choose, the most important consideration is the quality and freshness. As much as possible, choose organic, raw, and fresh nuts and seeds to maximize the nutritional benefits!
Learn about the health benefits of soaking your seeds and nuts!
What are your favorite nuts and seeds to eat? Share your answers in the comments section!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 29, 2015, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.