Types of nuts and their major health benefits

Types of nuts

Nuts are the reproductive kernel (seed) of the plant or tree from which they come. Nuts are perishable and may easily become rancid or infested with insects. Some people have an allergy to nuts, which can cause severe illness and possibly death. Season: Dessert nuts are in season during the autumn and winter.

Food value

Nuts are highly nutritious because of their protein, fat, and mineral salts. They are of considerable importance to vegetarians, who may use nuts in place of meat; they are therefore food that builds, repairs, and provides energy. Nuts are difficult to digest.


Dessert nuts, those with the shell on, are kept in a dry, ventilated store. Nuts without shells, whether grounds, nibbed, flaked, or whole, are kept airtight containers.

NOTE: Nuts should be of good size. They should be heavy for their size. There must be no sign mildew.

Uses in catering

Nuts are used extensively in pastry and confectionery work and vegetarian cookery, and also for decorating and flavoring. They are used whole or halved, and almonds are used ground, nibbed, and flaked.

Types of nuts and their health benefits


Salted almonds are served at cocktail parties and in bars. Ground, flaked or nibbed almonds are used in sweet dishes and for decorating cakes. Marzipan (almonds paste) has many uses in pastry work.

Health Benefits of Almonds

If you avoid dairy, calcium-rich almonds are a good choice to ensure you're getting enough of this bone-building mineral. Almonds are also high in vitamin E, a nutrient that helps to improve the condition and appearance of your skin. For some extra heart help, swap flaked almonds for the whole nut - with the skin intact - because the almond's skin is full of heart-protecting compounds called flavonoids.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are served with fresh fruit as dessert and are also used in confectionery.

Health benefits of Brazil nuts

Ideal for those with low thyroid function, Brazils are a good source of the mineral selenium, which we need to produce the active thyroid hormone. Selenium also supports immunity and helps wounds to heal. You only need three or four Brazil nuts a day to get all the selenium you require.


Chestnuts are used in certain stews, with vegetables (e.g. Brussels sprouts) and as stuffing for turkey. Chestnut flour is used for soup, and as a garnish for ice cream. Chestnut puree is used in pastries and gateaux. Chestnuts are also available dried.

Health benefits of chestnuts

By far the nut with the lowest fat and calories, chestnuts are rich in starchy carbs and fiber, and in their raw form are a good source of vitamin C. They're lower in protein than other nuts but make a useful contribution of B vitamins including B6. Ground chestnut flour can be used as a gluten-free flour for cakes and bakes, or buy fresh and roast for a tasty snack.


Coconut is used is a desiccated form for curry preparations and in many types of cakes and confectionery. Coconut cream and milk are also made and used in West Indian, Malaysian, and Thai cookery.

Macadamia nuts

These expensive nuts have a rich, delicate, sweetish flavor. They can be used in pasta dishes, savory sauces for meat, game, and poultry, and in ice cream, sorbets, and puddings.

Health benefits of macadamia

With one of the highest fat contents, macadamias are often used to add flavor and texture to dishes and work well in both savory and sweet recipes. Although high in fat, they do supply good levels of healthy monounsaturated variety. They're a rich source of fiber and make a useful contribution of minerals including magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Buy in small batches and store carefully to avoid rancidity.


Pecan nuts are usually roasted and maybe salted. Also used for desserts, various sweets, and ice cream.

Health benefits of pecans

Heart-friendly pecans are packed with plant sterols, valuable compounds that are effective at lowering cholesterol levels. Pecans are also antioxidant-rich which helps prevent plaque formation that causes hardening of the arteries. They're rich in oleic acid, the healthy fat found in olives and avocado. As a good source of vitamin B3 pecans are the perfect option if you're fighting fatigue because this vitamin helps us access the energy in our food.

Peanuts and cashew nuts

These may be salted and used as bar snacks. Also used in some stir-fry dishes. Peanuts are also used for oil and peanuts butter.

Health benefits of cashew nuts

Because they contribute a good level of protein and are a useful source of minerals like iron and zinc, cashews make an excellent choice if you're following a vegetarian diet. They're also rich in the mineral magnesium, which is thought to improve recall and delay, age-related memory loss. Add a handful to a vegetarian stir-fry or use as a nut butter on crackers or bread.

Pine nuts

Seeds of the stone pine, a native of the Mediterranean region. An important ingredient in pesto sauce.

Health benefits of pine nuts

Opt for pine nuts if you're concerned about high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been associated with heart problems as well as conditions like Parkinson's. Pine nuts are a good source of folate, which plays a key role in keeping homocysteine at normal levels.


These small green nuts, grown mainly in France and Italy are used for decorating galantines, small and large cakes and petits fours. They are also used in ice cream.

Health benefits of pistachios

Being especially rich in vitamin B6, which is important for keeping hormones balanced and healthy, pistachios are a good option for those with problem periods. They're the only nut to contain reasonable levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that play an important role in protecting the eyes. Pistachios also contain potassium and fiber - in fact, a 30g serving has more than three times that supplied by the equivalent weight of plums.


Walnuts, imported mainly from France and Italy, are used as a dessert, in salads and for decorating cakes and sweet dishes. They are also pickled while green and unripe, and used for making oil.

Health benefits of walnuts

Their superior antioxidant content means walnuts are useful in the fight against cancer. They're also a good source of mono-unsaturated, heart-friendly fats, and studies show they help to lower the bad form of cholesterol (LDL). Finally, they're rich in omega-3, so they're a great alternative if you don't eat oily fish.

Cob or hazelnuts

These nuts are used as a dessert and in praline. Chopped or ground, they have many uses in pastry work.

How many nuts should I have?

A healthy daily intake of nuts is 30 grams (a small handful) or approximately:
  • 20 almonds
  • 15 cashews
  • 20 hazelnuts
  • 15 macadamias
  • 15 pecans
  • 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 30 pistachio kernels
  • 9 walnut kernels
  • a small handful of mixed nuts or about two of each of the ten nut varieties (except chestnut which isn’t eaten raw)
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