Craving a crunchy snack that's not just tasty but also packs a protein punch? Look no further than high protein nuts! From almonds to peanuts, discover the plant-based, alpha-gal friendly ingredient that isn’t just a treat for your taste buds but also benefits your body in some big ways.
The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.
Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.
Protein is the building block of life. Although beef, pork, and other meats are well-known protein sources, people with a red meat allergy, following a vegetarian diet, or living a vegan lifestyle commonly look to plant-based protein in nuts.
Nuts are a delicious way to help you meet your daily protein needs. Whether you’re an alpha gal, a vegetarian, or just someone looking to diversify your protein intake, this article will guide you through high protein nuts, their unique benefits, and tasty ways to incorporate them into your diet to help you make informed choices about your daily protein intake.
In This Article
What Are Nuts?
Nuts are a type of fruit with a seed inside a hard shell. However, there is a difference between how botanists define nuts and how you might use them in the kitchen.
Botanists define nuts as dry, one-seeded fruits that don’t split open to release their seed. Using this definition, acorns, hazelnuts, and chestnuts are nuts. However, in everyday conversations and cooking, people consider the fruit of several other trees and plants as nuts, even if they don’t meet the botanical criteria.
That’s why you’ll find peanuts, almonds, pistachios, and cashews on this list — even if it might give botanists a mini meltdown.
Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds: What’s the Difference?
Legumes, nuts, and seeds are all nutrient-dense foods that are good plant-based protein sources. While they share some characteristics, each is unique regarding classification and health benefits.
Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are the edible seeds of plants in the Leguminosae family. And, despite having “nuts” in their name, peanuts are legumes rather than nuts.
Nuts are one-seeded fruits surrounded by a hard shell that does not split open to release the seed. Examples of nuts include hazelnuts and walnuts.
Seeds, such as chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds, are the reproductive parts of plants and are enclosed in a protective outer coating.
Related Article: The Best Beans for Protein (Includes 30+ Tasty Recipes)
Cracking the Benefits of Nuts
Nuts are more than just a tasty snack — they’re a powerhouse of nutrients and health benefits. From heart health to weight management, let’s crack open the science behind why you should be nuts about nuts.
Sage Advice: To reap the health rewards provided by nuts, add a one-ounce serving per day, five days a week, into your diet. The one exception to this rule is Brazil nuts, which should be consumed in even greater moderation — just one or two nuts per day.
Improve Your Heart Health
How might nuts benefit your heart? Nuts are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can lower the risk of heart disease. Consuming 50 to 100 grams of nuts five times a week can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Eating a 1-ounce serving of nuts five days a week can further benefit your heart health by reducing the risk of blood clots and lowering blood sugar levels.
Rich in Antioxidants
Did you know that some nuts — like walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts — are some of the best plant-based sources of antioxidants? To illustrate this benefit, think of antioxidants as the superheroes of the food world. They fight off bad guys called “free radicals,” tiny troublemakers that can mess up your cells and make you sick over time. Just like a superhero keeps a city safe, antioxidants keep your body healthy by stopping these free radicals from causing damage. So, when you munch on nuts rich in antioxidants, you’re calling in the superheroes to keep you strong and healthy!
Reduced Risk of Colon Cancer
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in nuts may help prevent tumor formation. This study found a statistically significant association between a high frequency of nut consumption and a reduced risk of colon cancer.
Because nuts are rich in proteins and fiber, they can help you feel full faster and serve as a weight management tool. Regularly eating nuts may help you manage your weight and decrease your risk of obesity.
Nuts are a good source of essential nutrients like protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Some nuts are exceptionally high in specific nutrients. For example, Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, while almonds are rich in vitamin E.
Balancing the Benefits: Potential Downsides of Nuts
While nuts are generally a healthy choice, they come with some caveats. Here are some cautions to consider when incorporating nuts into your diet.
Both tree nuts and peanuts commonly trigger food allergies. Reactions can range from mild symptoms like itching to severe, life-threatening anaphylaxis. Like with alpha-gal, if you have a nut allergy or sensitivity, you should avoid nuts and foods that contain them.
High in Calories
While nuts have many benefits, including helping you with your weight loss goals, they are a calorie-dense food. If you’re watching your weight, stick to the recommended daily handful, or you may start to put on a few pounds.
Typically Not a Complete Protein
Except for pistachios, nuts are not complete proteins. This means that they must be combined with another food — typically whole grains or beans — to give your body all nine essential amino acids it needs.
Nuts that are roasted, salted, or flavored may be high in sodium. Opt for unsalted varieties of nuts whenever possible, especially if you have high blood pressure.
Sage Advice: Whether you crave sweets or savory, NUTSÓLA offers a wide range of delicious nuts that are perfect for snacking. My favorites include vanilla caramel cashews, sweet ‘and salty peanuts, and chipotle BBQ cashews.
Which Nuts are the Highest in Protein?
Not only are nuts delicious and satisfying, but they are also an alpha-gal friendly source of protein. While all nuts contain protein, some varieties provide more than others. Here is a list of the most common culinary nuts by protein content, including other nutritional benefits and recommendations for incorporating these nuts into your diet.
When it comes to protein content, peanuts reign supreme among commonly consumed nuts. Native to South America, today they are a staple in cuisines from Asia to the American South. George Washington Carver is credited with their rise to fame in the United States after he developed over 300 uses for the humble legume. They’re a cornerstone of American snacking culture, showing up everywhere from lunchbox sandwiches to baseball games.
How to Add Peanuts to Your Diet
- Snack Smart: A handful of peanuts, either by themselves or in trail mix, is a quick and satisfying snack.
- Culinary Creations: Grind peanuts into creamy peanut butter and use it in everything from sandwiches to stews to Thai curries.
- Smoothie Boost: Add one or two tablespoons of peanut butter to your morning smoothie for a protein boost.
Almonds’ rich and intricate history dates back thousands of years. Native to the Middle East, almonds have been a dietary mainstay for humans since at least 4000 BC. They have played a role in trade routes, religious ceremonies, and even mythologies. In the United States, almonds have found their way into a variety of culinary uses, including almond milk, almond butter, and gluten-free almond flour.
How to Add Almonds to Your Diet
- Snack Smart: A handful of almonds can be a quick, healthy snack.
- Gluten-Free Cooking: Use ground almonds as a gluten-free alternative to flour or breadcrumbs.
- Crunchy Topping: Add a sprinkle of sliced or slivered almonds to your morning oatmeal, a cup of yogurt, or chicken salad for a protein-rich crunch.
Sage Advice: While almond milk products like non-dairy milk, plant-based yogurt, and dairy-free ice cream are popular with alpha gals who avoid dairy, it’s important to note that these products don’t contain much protein.
Pistachios have been cherished for millennia, originally hailing from the Middle East. In the United States, pistachios gained prominence in the late 20th century, especially in California, which now accounts for a significant portion of U.S. pistachio production. These vibrant green nuts are not just eye-catching but are also a go-to for a protein-packed snack or a colorful addition to various dishes.
Sage Advice: Unlike the other nuts on this list, pistachios are a complete protein. This means that pistachios contain all nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot make on its own, making it an excellent plant-based protein.
How to Add Pistachios to Your Diet
- Tasty Topping: Sprinkle pistachios over oatmeal or yogurt for added texture and nutrition.
- Alternative Pesto: Make your favorite pesto recipe substituting pistachios for pine nuts.
- Crunchy Crust: Encrust chicken or fish with crushed pistachios for a protein-packed crunch.
Did you know that cashews are Brazilian by birth? Yep! They were first discovered by Europeans in Brazil, thanks to the culinary wisdom of the Tupi people. Fast forward a few centuries, and these nuts became a snacking sensation in the US in the 1920s. Today, cashews are more than a tasty, plant-based protein snack. They’re the secret sauce—literally—in vegan dishes and many desserts.
How to Add Cashews to Your Diet
Walnuts have been around since the Byzantine era and were known as the “royal nut.” California is the walnut capital of the United States, producing a staggering one billion pounds annually — that’s more than 99% of the American supply! Inside a hard shell that resembles the human brain, you’ll find a nut that’s an excellent source of omega-3, which helps reduce inflammation. Use walnuts to add crunch to brownies or make natural soaps.
How to Add Walnuts to Your Diet
- Walnut Butter: Make walnut butter by blending roasted walnuts in a food processor.
- Banana Bread: Add chopped walnuts to your favorite banana bread recipe for extra texture and flavor.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies: Stir chopped walnuts into your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.
Hazelnuts (or Filberts)
Also known as filberts, hazelnuts have a history that’s as rich as their nutty flavor. While they’re native to Europe and Asia, the United State’s hazelnut haven is in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which accounts for nearly all of the country’s commercial hazelnut production. Hazelnuts are good for more than Nutella — their unique buttery richness and sweet taste make them versatile for both sweet and savory dishes.
Related Article: How to Make Vegan Nutella
How to Add Hazelnuts to Your Diet
- A Healthier Spread: Grind hazelnuts into butter and add a few ingredients to make a dairy-free, lower-sugar vegan version of Nutella.
- Hazelnut Energy Balls: Combine hazelnuts, dates, and a touch of cocoa powder in a food processor to make delicious no-bake energy balls.
- Salad Topping: Toast some hazelnuts and toss them over your favorite salad for added crunch and flavor.
These gigantic nuts often remain in a jar of mixed nuts after their flashier cousins are cherry-picked and snarfed down first. But guess what? Brazil nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of magnesium and selenium. As vegans, people following a keto diet, and other health-conscious consumers recognize these benefits, it’s causing a shortage of Brazil nuts.
Sage Advice: Brazil nuts are an exception to the 1-ounce serving size rule for all other nuts. To ensure you don’t consume too much selenium, limit yourself to just one or two Brazil nuts per day, eaten occasionally. Eating too many Brazil nuts can lead to selenium toxicity, causing symptoms like bad breath and fatigue. In extreme cases, it may result in severe health issues like kidney failure, cardiac arrest, or even death.
How to Add Brazil Nuts to Your Diet
- Sensational Smoothie: Blend one or two Brazil nuts into your morning smoothie for a selenium boost.
- Tasty Topping: Sprinkle a chopped Brazil nut over a salad or oatmeal.
Also known as piñons or pignoli, pine nuts are technically seeds from pine cones harvested primarily from stone pine and pinyon pine trees. Pine nuts require patience. A pine tree is typically 10 to 15 years old before producing cones. And once cones appear, you’ll have to wait even longer for the pine cones to fully bloom before extracting the seeds from its center. In American cuisine, pine nuts are the star ingredient in pesto, and their unique buttery flavor can enhance cookies.
How to Add Pine Nuts to Your Diet
- Hummus Topping: Stir toasted pine nuts into hummus for a nutty twist.
- Pasta Perfection: Add a few raw or roasted pine nuts to your favorite pasta dish.
- Pignoli Cookies: Top homemade pignoli cookies with pine nuts for a taste of Italy.
Related Article: How to Make Vegan Pesto
Pecans are one of the few tree nuts native to North America, where the Algonquin tribe cultivated pecans along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. After harvesting the pecans, the Algonquins pounded and boiled them to separate a thick, cream-colored oil, which they then skimmed off and used in cooking. (I like to think of it as the earliest example of vegan butter.) Today, the United States is the world’s largest producer of pecans, churning out around 300 million pounds annually — making them about as American as pecan pie.
How to Add Pecans to Your Diet
Macadamia nuts are the jetsetters of the nut world, hailing from Australia but spending a lot of time vacationing in Hawaii. These nuts are so exclusive that it takes a tree about ten years to mature enough to produce them. Hawaii is the macadamia mecca of the United States, accounting for 90% of all harvested macadamias. And as you snack on a handful of the chocolate-dipped variety or stir macadamia nuts into your favorite chocolate chip recipe, you positively impact your health. That’s because macadamias provide more monounsaturated fat — the kind that helps you lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol level — than any other nut.
How to Add Macadamias to Your Diet
- Nut Butter: Blend macadamia nuts in a food processor to create a creamy, luxurious nut butter that’s great on toast or as a fruit dip.
- Crusted Fish: Use crushed macadamia nuts as a crust for your favorite fish filet, then bake or pan fry.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies: Add some macadamia nuts to your chocolate chip cookie recipe for a tropical twist.
Perhaps best known for being roasted over an open fire and nibbled on during the winter holidays, chestnuts are surprisingly low in protein. Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, chestnuts were one of the first foods eaten by humans, dating to prehistoric times. In the US, the chestnut tree was nearly wiped out by a fungus in the early 20th century, and most chestnuts sold in the US today are grown overseas. But they still hold a special place in American hearts and holiday traditions.
What are Water Chestnuts?
Unlike the nuts harvested from the American chestnut tree, water chestnuts are aquatic vegetables that grow in parts of Southeast Asia. Often wrapped in bacon for a quick appetizer or chopped and stirred into lettuce wraps, water chestnuts only contain 0.25 grams of protein per ounce.
How to Add Chestnuts to Your Diet
- Scrumptious Stuffing: Use chestnuts in your holiday stuffing for a traditional touch.
- Comforting Soup: Blend cooked chestnuts into a creamy winter soup.
- Roasted Snack: Simply roast chestnuts for a classic snack.
What’s Your Favorite Type of Nut?
What nut do you eat most? How do you add it to your diet? Any culinary tips or delicious recipes to pass along? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.