Nuts are a good choice for a low-carb diet because most nuts are fairly low in carbohydrates, plus they're loaded with good stuff -- fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. If you're following a very-low-carb diet, you'll need to limit your daily servings of nuts because carbs can add up fast.
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Macadamia Nuts and Brazil Nuts
Macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts have fewer carbs than other nuts, with 3.5 grams of total carbs in a 1-ounce serving. One ounce equals about six small Brazil nuts and 10 to 12 macadamia nuts, or roughly a scant handful. One warning though -- only eat Brazil nuts once in a while to avoid selenium toxicity. They're so high in selenium that a 1-ounce serving exceeds the amount that's safe to eat in one day.
Even though you can certainly include nuts in a low-carb diet, it’s essential to watch portions to be sure you don’t ruin your daily carb or calorie budget. Calories in a 1-ounce serving range from 159 in pistachios to 204 in macadamia nuts, with an average around 180 calories per ounce of nuts.
Pecans and Walnuts
Walnuts and pecans are tied for second place for fewest carbs. A 1-ounce serving of either contains 4 grams of total carbohydrates. You can figure that 1 ounce equals eight to 11 walnut halves and 18 to 20 pecan halves. Each nut has a benefit that’s unique, so their nutrient differences -- along with taste preferences -- may guide your choices. For example, macadamia nuts have the most monounsaturated fat, which is great for your health because it lowers low-density lipoproteins, or bad cholesterol, while boosting levels of high-density lipoproteins, or good cholesterol.
Walnuts stand out as the only nuts that are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, plus they're one of the best overall sources of the plant-based omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. You'll get 2.6 grams of ALA in a 1-ounce serving, which is more than 100 percent of your recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Pecans contain 8 milligrams of vitamin E -- half of the recommended dietary allowance -- compared to barely a trace in macadamia nuts. Walnuts aren’t far behind, with 7 milligrams of vitamin E per serving. Vitamin E is a vital antioxidant that helps neutralize reactive molecules called free radicals before they damage healthy tissue.
Hazelnuts, Almonds and Peanuts
Hazelnuts, almonds and peanuts have a few additional carbs, but they'll still fit into a low-carb diet. A 1-ounce serving of hazelnuts -- 18 to 20 nuts -- has 5 grams of total carbs, while almonds and peanuts have 6 grams. You can eat 20 to 24 almonds and 28 peanuts for a 1-ounce serving. Peanuts are actually legumes, like beans and lentils, but they have a nutrient profile and health benefits that are similar to nuts.
Hazelnuts have more plant-based antioxidants than the other types of nuts, yet you’ll get 10 times more if you eat them with the skin intact. While all nuts have protein and fiber, almonds are at the top of the list, with 6 grams of protein and nearly 4 grams of fiber per serving.
Tips for Using Nuts in a Low-Carb Diet
Nuts are easy to work into a low-carb diet. You can simply top a salad with your favorite nuts or mix chopped nuts in with cooked veggies, like classic green beans and almonds. Spinach, strawberries and walnuts create a healthy salad, while pecans and peanuts work well with -- and add protein to -- a low-carb veggie stir-fry. If you crush nuts, or grind them in a blender, then mix them with herbs, they can replace breadcrumbs as a coating for chicken and fish.
When you want a snack other than plain nuts, go with peanut butter on celery sticks -- just be sure to choose all-natural peanut butter that doesn't have any added sugar. Or you could make a dip for veggies by blending roasted beets, walnuts, seasonings like dill and just enough olive oil to get the right consistency.
- University of Michigan Health System: Healthy Nuts, Go Nuts
- Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fat and Cholesterol
- Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Peanuts, All Types, Dry-Roasted, Without Salt
- Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute: Selenium