#134 Almonds vs Walnuts: Which Nut Should You Eat?

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Almonds vs. Walnuts: Which Nut Should You Eat?

Almonds are now more popular than peanuts.  Indeed, almond consumption has increased ten-fold since the 1960s.  In contrast, walnuts have seen little increase.

Are almonds that much better for you than walnuts?

Depending on which medical condition you are trying to prevent or reverse, the answer may vary.  In this article, we will look at which nut is best for weight loss, brain health, heart health, and other medical conditions.

Which Nut is Best for Weight Loss?

As most people struggle with weight issues, I will start off this article by exploring which nut is best for weight loss.  For years, people trying to lose weight avoided nuts because they are so high in fat and calories.  Despite medical studies consistently showing that nut eaters were leaner, it wasn’t until the 1990s that nuts started to catch on as a way to help keep your weight in check.

There are several ways that nuts help with weight loss.  The first is that all of the protein and fiber fills you up.  Second, the body has a hard time using all of the calories in a nut so you get some “free calories.”  Lastly, nuts may increase your metabolism so you burn more calories even at rest.

So which nut is best for weight loss?  When it comes to almonds, a recent study showed that almond eating dieters were able to lose 65% more weight than their non-almond eating dieting counterparts.  Many other studies have also shown significant weight loss with almonds.

Walnuts also do not cause weight gain.  Interestingly, one study showed that even eating large amounts of walnuts for six months did not cause weight gain.  While you don’t gain weight eating walnuts, I could not find any convincing evidence that walnuts helped with weight loss.  Thus, for weight loss I am going to declare almonds the winner.

Winner: Almonds

Which Nut is Best for the Brain?

When it comes to having optimal brain performance, nuts play an important role.  For example, in the famous PREDIMED Study, eating almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts was shown to improve brain function by up to 60% after 6.5 years.  Interestingly, even people with the Alzheimer’s gene (ApoE4) benefited from nuts in this study.  While nuts improve brain performance and prevent dementia, is there a difference between almonds and walnuts?

At the time I wrote this article, if you search the Pubmed website for “cognitive function almonds” and “cognitive function walnuts,” you will find 6 studies on almonds and 19 on walnuts.  In reviewing all of these studies, the high omega 3 content of walnuts seems to give this nut the advantage.  Walnuts even look like a brain.  Regardless of your age, studies show that younger and older people’s brains function better with walnuts.

Winner: Walnuts

Which Nut is Best for Nutrition?

When it comes to nutrition, nuts are definitely a superfood.  From a nutritional standpoint, most people tend to view all nuts as essentially the same.  However, there are distinct nutritional differences between almonds and walnuts.  Other than the omega 3 fatty acids, for which 70% of people are deficient, almonds come out on top for most other nutritional categories.

Fiber: Fiber is critical for gut and heart heath.  When it comes to fiber, almonds have more than twice the amount of fiber than walnuts.  Indeed, one serving of almonds (1/4 of a cup, a handful or 23 almonds) has 4 grams of fiber which is 14% of the fiber you need for the day. Winner: Almonds

Protein: For protein, almonds again come out on top.  A single serving will get you 6 grams of protein versus the 4 grams of protein in walnuts. Winner: Almonds

Omega 3s: Here is where walnuts really shine.  Indeed, one serving of walnuts (1/4 cup, 14 halves, or one handful) will get you 100% of your omega 3s for the day. Winner: Walnuts

Electrolytes: Electrolytes are important for proper heart function.  In the electrolyte category, almonds again have the advantage.  Each serving of almonds will get you 4% of the potassium, 16% of the magnesium, and 8% of the calcium you need for the day. Winner: Almonds

Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant.  When it comes to vitamin E, almonds are again the clear winner.  One serving will get you 40% of the vitamin E you need for the day. Winner: Almonds

Nutritional Winner: Almonds

Which Nut is Best for the Heart?

If you are a woman or man in the U.S., there is a 40% chance you will die from heart problems.  Fortunately, eating nuts every day will decrease your risk by 40%.

While both almonds and walnuts lower bad cholesterol (LDL), triglycerides, blood pressure, blood sugar, and inflammation, I could not find any quality studies specifically looking at one type of nut and the risk of a heart attack.

Some studies do show a specific benefit of omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of arrhythmias.  Similarly, other studies show that magnesium, which is high in almonds, may also be helpful in preventing arrhythmias.

Certainly, when it comes to the heart, there are specific benefits to each nut.  Almonds are packed with the powerful anti-oxidant, vitamin E, as well as magnesium.  In contrast, walnuts are sky high in the anti-inflammatory omega 3s.

Winner: Tie

Which Nut is Best for Cancer?

Next to heart disease, cancer is the main cause of death in the U.S.  Can nuts prevent or reverse cancer?

While the data are not as strong for nuts in preventing or treating cancer, one large study of 354,933 people showed that nuts can prevent 14% of cancer deaths.  Another study showed that you can cut your breast cancer risk by 2-3 fold with almonds and walnuts.

In my review of the medical literature, there are many studies showing anti-cancer properties of both almonds and walnuts.  While both appear beneficial, I could not find clear evidence that one nut was better than the other.

Winner: Tie

Which Nut is Best for Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Diabetes?

Unfortunately, most adults in the U.S. have either high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes/pre-diabetes.  While these conditions often don’t cause symptoms now, they are “ticking time bombs” for your health.  Do nuts also prevent these problems?

When it comes to high blood pressure, nuts are extremely beneficial.  For example, in the PREDIMED Study, almonds and walnuts decreased systolic blood pressure (top number) by 7 points.  This beneficial effect was reported to be due to the nitric oxide effect of nuts which relaxes arteries and normalizes blood pressure.

For cholesterol it is a similar story.  Studies show that nuts decrease bad cholesterol (LDL), raise good cholesterol (HDL), and lower triglycerides.  The perfect combination.

Nuts also work magic in preventing and reversing diabetes.  Indeed, if everyone ate nuts, diabetes could be reduced by 39%.

In trying to determine which nut is best for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, I could not find a clear winner.  Both seemed to be equally effective.

Winner: Tie

Which Nut is Best for Arthritis and Autoimmune Diseases?

The anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids have shown significant promise in treating arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and other inflammatory diseases.  For example, one study showed that omega 3 fatty acids directly stopped the molecules causing inflammation in osteoarthritis.  Another study showed that the omega 3s could even reverse osteoarthritis.

When it comes to autoimmune diseases, early data indicate a potential role for omega 3s in reversing these diseases.  Ongoing studies will help to answer the question of how effective the omega 3s are for these conditions.  Until further data are available, if you are battling arthritis, autoimmune diseases, or other inflammatory conditions, walnuts are your best nut.

Winner: Walnuts

Overall Winner

For optimal health, nuts clearly play an important role.  Thus, trying to answer the question, which nut should you eat is definitely a challenge.

Overall, I am calling it a tie between almonds and walnuts.  If there is a particular medical condition you are battling, you may want to choose one nut over the other.

Personally, I “cover my bases” and eat both nuts.  I eat 1-2 servings of almonds daily and a serving of walnuts on most days.

When I am craving something sweet, I love a little dark chocolate over almonds.  For salads, I like both almonds and walnuts.  If I am looking for a nut butter, I tend to favor walnuts.

Are you an almond or walnut person?  How do you like to eat your nuts?  Please leave your comments below for our community.

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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

21 Comments
  1. I live almonds than walnuts..but their benefits makes me choose both.. Nuts lover.. Thank you for the info.. It helps out

    • Thanks! One of my goals in writing this article was to encourage people to visualize what food is doing for their bodies. I have found that when I think this way it helps me to make wiser food choices for my health.

  2. A thoroughly enjoyable and educational read! It is concise, informative and to the point. I’ve often wondered which nut is preferable as I love both for different uses. Now I can make an educated decision – Thanks!!

  3. Thanks for your work in putting this together, Dr Day!

    One 50 calorie square of dark chocolate with 8 almonds is very satisfying for a couple hours, and satisfies desire for something sweet. I won’t be afraid to up the number of almonds with this snack/meal replacement. (I eat 6 meals/ snacks each day).

    Sting cheese with 5-6 walnuts will satisfy for a couple hours. After reading this article, I won’t be afraid to up the number of walnuts for this snack/ meal replacement.

    • Hi Steve,

      Great suggestions! Adding almonds and walnuts to what you already enjoy makes a lot of sense.

      Thanks for reading!

      Best,

      John

  4. I think a tie sounds right. One important thing to remember is that like all things that are good for your health too much is not good. One must be sure to chew all nuts almost to a paste because they can stick in your gut and too many will give you gas.

  5. I was delighted to read your articles about nuts. I have always wondered whether nuts were really beneficial for my body and it was great to find out how good they are for me. Nuts it is from now on.

  6. My wife and I are almond eaters. We eat almonds every day and enjoy the almond butter freshly ground at our local supermarket. We also include a handful of almonds in our organic vegetable protein shake that includes green leafy vegetables (like spinach and arugula) and a banana to enhance the flavor. We also like dark chocolate and almonds. After reading Dr. Day’s article, we are definitely going to include walnuts in our daily diet.

  7. I have a murmer, and i’ve been taking 100mgs. For about 1 month l have seen the decrease in palpitations, and also
    Almonds help. Thank’s for all your help!!

    • Hi Betty,

      Thank you so much for asking. Making progress–our editor from Harper Collins just sent us the first round of edits. We are revising the manuscript now.

      Best,

      John

  8. Don’t forget to toss a handful into your stir fry or any kind of stuffing, such as sarma or dolma!
    BTW, my brother in-law had a hole in his heart repaired and his cardiologist told him to eat 18 almonds/day, and he would religiously count out 18 to take to work every day,I thought that was interesting, 18 as opposed to a handful 🙂

    • Hi Steve,

      Great suggestion! Nuts are good with anything. Eighteen almonds daily is an interesting number…still 18 is better than 0!

      Best,

      John

    • Hi Scott,

      There are 3 ways to calculate a serving size for these nuts.

      A serving size for almonds is 1/4 cup, 23 almonds, or a handful. For walnuts it is 1/4 cup, 14 halves, or a handful.

      Hope this helps!

      John