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Ask Dr. Mike: What Is the Healthiest Nut?

Here you'll find the answers to a wealth of health and wellness questions posed by Healthy Talk fans. Listen in because what you know helps ensure healthy choices you can live with. Today on Healthy Talk, you wanted to know:

What's the difference between a legume and a nut?

A legume is a dried fruit inside of a pod (or what's called a shed). It's called a legume because you're able to peel the shed off, instead of a nut where you crack its shell.

My wife and daughter were arguing about which nuts were the healthiest. They have no idea what they're talking about. Can you help them?

All nuts are all similar in calories per ounce. There are some lower-calorie nuts, like almonds, cashews, and pistachios. The highest calorie nuts are pecans and macadamias.

However, it's really hard to rank which are "unhealthy," since they all contribute to your health differently. For example, the best nut for your brain is the peanut. Walnuts are great for your heart. Almonds are high in fiber, low in calories, and contain tons of vitamins and calcium.

My wife says there's no nutritional value to peanuts (which I love). She wants me to eat walnuts or almonds (which I hate). Do I really need to switch?

Like Dr. Mike was stating earlier, peanuts have a lot of good antioxidants, folic acid, healthy fats, vitamin E and are great for your brain.

You don't necessarily need to stop eating peanuts, but you might want to try other nuts like walnuts since they aid in heart hearth.

If you have a health question or concern, Dr. Mike encourages you to write him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call in, toll-free, to the LIVE radio show (1.844.305.7800) so he can provide you with support and helpful advice.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: March 31, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

You're listening to RadioMD. It's time to Ask Dr. Mike on Healthy Talk. Call or email your questions now. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 877-711-5211. The lines are open.

DR MIKE: So, I noticed that I had a few listener questions coming in on email about nuts and legumes, so I thought I would just focus maybe on those three for this segment. So, let me start with what I think is the quickest question.

"What is the difference between legumes and nuts?"

So, I like this because, listen, I know you guys could just Google that, but I think it's kind of awesome that you would rather just ask me the question. Or, maybe you did Google it and you're going to see if I get it right. But, anyway, any question--I love them all--and I do, I look at them and, in many cases, I respond back in email but definitely try to get them on air.

A legume, it's a dried fruit inside a pod or what's called a "shed". Not a shell. That's different. You take, for instance, a peanut. A peanut is actually a legume. It's covered in what we call a "peanut shell", whatever. But, it's really not because it's stringy. You can actually peel it. You can peel each little layer off to expose the dried fruit in the middle. That's a legume. Peas. In the case of a pea, it's called a "pod". They're like stringy things you can peel back.

So, pods and sheds, you could literally just peel back and inside is the dried fruit. That's the legume. The difference between that and a nut, it's a fruit, just like the legume is, but in a nut, it's covered in a hard shell and it has a seed. So, technically, to be called a "nut" it has to have a hard shell, plus a seed. If it's a legume, it's a dried fruit just within a pod or a shed. There you go. I'm sure you Googled it, so did I get it right?

The next question: "My wife and daughter were arguing about which nuts are the best (healthiest)." So, he was talking about which were the healthiest.

"They have no idea what they are talking about. Can you help them?"

I think, William, they're probably arguing a lot about this and maybe you tried to help and they're not listening to you. So, let's look at this. Let me go ahead and read the next question, too, because I think by answering William's question, I'll get to this other question here.

So, we have William's question about what are the best nuts, in terms of health, right? Here's the next question:

"Hi, Dr. Mike. My wife says there are no nutritional value to peanuts, which I love. She wants me to eat walnuts or almonds, which I hate. Do I really need to switch?"

So, there you go. I think I can answer both of these as I go through some of this information. By the way, this information, I asked one of the Life Extension health advisors to go through this for me and put this together. So, the first thing that I want to mention, all nuts are about the same in terms of calories per ounce. I mean, they're not equal, but pretty close. I think when you, William, if we're going to talk about health or healthy nuts, I think maybe that the first thing we need to talk about is calories. They're all similar, but you can group some of the nuts into lower calorie, which, maybe for you, might be healthier unless you're trying to gain weight, so I guess it really depends on the person.

Then, we have some high calorie nuts that maybe most Americans, I think, would want to eat a little bit less. So, the healthiest nuts, in terms of calories, and I'm ranking this based on the lowest number of calories per ounce, coming in at around 60 calories per ounce would be almonds, cashews and pistachios. One of my favorites, right? Almonds, cashews and pistachios. I actually snack on almonds throughout the day. Pistachios, I would eat more, but they're expensive. The almonds are just easier and cheaper.

So, there you go. In terms of calories, around 160 per ounce: almonds, cashews and pistachios. Now, the highest calorie nuts, again, this is not necessarily unhealthy, but most Americans are watching calories, so these might be the nuts that you want to limit: macadamia nuts and pecans. That's all that was listed here. So, macadamia and pecans have the highest calories per ounce. I didn't know pecans were, but I knew macadamia nuts. Awesome, by the way. Wonderful flavor. They have a lot of fat. Twenty-one grams of fat versus, say, 14 grams of fat in the almonds. So, that's why the macadamia nut tastes so good because fat tastes good. So, watch the calories with macadamia nuts.

Just remember that they're all good. You know, really the difference between, say, the almond and the macadamia nut is really about 40-50 calories an ounce. So, I mean, you're talking about a serving which is usually around 15-20 nuts or so. That's about an ounce. There you go. That's the first way to break that down.

Now, the problem, William, becomes how do you rank the healthiest nuts to not as healthy? It's really hard to do that. What we have found is, it's easier to talk about which nuts are good for different body parts. For instance, the best nut for your brain which is going to answer the second question, is the peanut. So, the listener that sent in the question about eating peanuts and his wife wanting him to change to something like an almond, no.

Peanuts are good. Peanuts have a lot of good antioxidants. It's probably better to keep them in the shed. Notice I said "shed" not "shell". Peel it and eat it raw like that. Peanuts are great for your brain. So, when it comes to your brain, peanuts are at the top of the list. I know a lot of people would put maybe walnuts out there, but we're going to get to walnuts and that's really about the heart. But peanuts, which are technically legumes, are high in folic acid. Folic acids in several studies have been shown to protect against cognitive decline. Of course, folic acid is extremely important in pregnancy as well, just in brain development.

Peanuts are great choices for vegetarians who, often, are low in folic acid, by the way. So, that's another thing. That's another plus about peanuts. Loaded with healthy fats. Loaded with vitamin E and about 170 calories per ounce. So, that's good. That listener who sent in the peanut question. No, you don't have to switch. Maybe switch it up a little bit. Why not? Right. A little almond. A little peanut. Maybe mix it up a little bit. But, peanuts are good—especially for your brain.

As far as the heart goes, that's the walnut. Healthy Omega 3's. Alpha-linolenic acid, ALA. Very, very good for the cardiovascular system. As a matter of fact, there was a 2006 Spanish study that looked at ALA and heart arrhythmias and it showed that the walnut was as effective at some medications for heart arrhythmias. The walnut was as effective as olive oil in reducing inflammation and oxidation within the cardiovascular system. So, walnuts are really at the top of the list for the heart.

What is the best nut, maybe, in general for disease prevention?

Well, this is debatable now. But, we're going to go ahead. I say "we" because I had an advisor here at Life Extension help me. We're going to go ahead and say the almond. Relatively speaking, they're low in calories—about 155 calories per 15-20 almonds. They have a lot of good calcium. They have vitamin K, vitamin E. They have some of the higher content of fiber. So, when you really put it all together, you know, a handful of almonds a day can go a long way towards disease prevention.

So, again, William, it's tough to rank nuts in terms of healthiest. They're all good for you. They all have fiber; a good composition of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, but it looks like peanuts for the brain, walnuts for the heart and almonds for overall health.

Maybe that will help and stop the fighting, I don't know. Alright. This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike.