Dr. Day is a cardiologist and Medical Director of Heart Rhythm Services at his practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Stanford University. He is board certified in Cardiology and Cardiac Electrophysiology.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.