If you want to lose belly fat and improve your heart health, go nuts—literally. Adding more nuts and seeds to your diet can give your daily nutrition more monounsaturated fats, according to research conducted by Penn State University. Diets rich in these “good” fats, like the “Mediterranean diet,” have been shown to reduce belly fat compared to diets where other fats are eaten instead—which is why we’ve come up with a guide to choosing the healthiest nuts to add to your weight loss diet.
Those same monounsaturated fats have also been shown to control blood pressure. And according to a 2013 Spanish study, eating a diet supplemented with nuts and olive oil reduced the risk of stroke, heart attack and death by 30 percent.
So your health—and your belly—want you to go nuts. Just don’t go too nuts: Because they’re calorie-dense foods, it’s easy to go overboard. Consult the Nutrisystem Grocery Guide to make sure you’re keeping your portions in control when choosing the healthiest nuts.
Here are 10 of the healthiest nuts to help you get these heart and belly-healthy benefits—as well as bonus benefits for disease prevention, appetite control and more:
Even if you don’t lose weight, eating almonds can help your belly shrink. In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), people with elevated LDL cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol—those who ate a daily snack of almonds dropped fat in their legs and bellies, even if they didn’t lose weight overall—which is why this little powerhouse made our list of healthiest nuts.
How to enjoy them: Sprinkle some on a salad to make it more filling and fight fat. This surprising Green Goddess Salad features 1/2 cup of shaved almonds with Brussels sprouts, edamame and kale for a flavor you’ll love.
Those shells are a savior for portion control: If you keep the pile of pistachio shells near you as you snack, it could help signal to your brain that you’ve eaten enough. In one study of students published in the journal Appetite, those who had to shell their pistachios ate 41 percent fewer calories than those who got pre-shelled nuts—but both groups felt just as satisfied and filled up from the snack.
How to enjoy them: With the shells on! On Nutrisystem, 2 Tablespoons of pistachios is one PowerFuel.
Feed not just your body, but your brain: Like salmon, walnuts have omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with memory and brain functions. In one study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, rats who were given walnuts for 28 days ate less food overall while increasing their ability to complete a maze—making them fitter in both mind and body.
How to enjoy them: Add crunch to your oatmeal with a serving of walnuts. This bowl of Banana Nut Overnight Oatmeal even takes the morning rush out of making them—mix oats, almond milk, bananas, walnuts and other ingredients together before bed, and wake up to a sweet, crunchy, delicious breakfast you can feel great about.
While all tree nuts can help with hypertension, cashews bring some extra help to your blood pressure (BP): Magnesium. According to the National Institutes of Health, this mineral helps lower blood pressure and aids in blood sugar control. These little elbow-shaped nuts don’t stop there, though. Cashews are also loaded with copper, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which can help your body use iron from your diet to form more red blood cells.
How to enjoy them: In our antioxidant-packed Blueberry Burst Energy Balls. Cashews help keep these sweet orbs together, while blueberries bring the sweetness in this easy, snackable recipe.
According to Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center, Georgians must have fantastic cholesterol scores: Eating a daily snack of their favorite nut can help lower “bad” cholesterol by as 16.5 percent, more than the American Heart Association’s “Step I” diet. It’s thought that this cholesterol-lowering result is due to antioxidants—these compounds block oxidation of blood lipids, whch doesn’t let your cholesterol levels go up.
How to enjoy them: In pie, duh. To stay on plan while getting your pecan pie fix, opt for these mini Maple Chocolate Pecan Pies, which have just 90 calories per serving.
6. Pine Nuts
People have been eating pine nuts since before Greek times, but science is now showing how they can help control your appetite: In one study published by the American Physiological Society, women who had pine nut oil had significantly less desire to eat 30 minutes later. The polyunsaturated fats in the nut oil are theorized to be the reason for this appetite suppressant effect.
How to enjoy them: Add pine nuts to the filling power of Greek yogurt’s protein in this surprising Savory Tahini Yogurt Parfait.
7. Macadamia Nuts
These Hawaiian wonders didn’t used to be included on the list of healthiest nuts—macadamias were considered too saturated to be healthy. But one study conducted by Penn State University found that they still lowered cholesterol by 9.4 percent when eaten in moderation each day. Scientists believe there’s “something else” in macadamias that lets them do this trick. Maybe it’s deliciousness.
How to enjoy them: In this Tropical Shrimp Salad with Lemon Herb Dressing. It’s got mango, pineapple, macadamia nuts, shrimp … all kinds of delightful ingredients that make it feel like a treat.
They’re usually masked in chocolate, but hazelnuts have the nutritional power to stand on their own: According to a study conducted by Oregon State University, not only do they have the healthy fats you’ll find in other tree nuts, but they help older adults increase their micronutrient levels, which has been associated with lower risks of age-related health problems like Alzheimer’s.
How to enjoy them: In your own custom nut butter! Follow these instructions to use your food processor to whip up your own, healthier hazelnut spread.
9. Soy Nuts
If you’re on the hunt for a one of the healthiest nuts with protein, look no further: According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), crunchy little soy nuts have 12 grams of the filling, muscle-building nutrient in every ounce. And according to the USDA, that’s twice as much protein as an egg!
How to enjoy them: Snack on them! A half-ounce of soy nuts—about 2 tablespoons—counts as one PowerFuel on Nutrisystem.
Yeah, yeah, we know: Peanuts aren’t nuts. But peanut butter makes everything better—it adds sweetness, helps ingredients stick together, and just makes everything more yum. No wonder it’s in so many of our readers’ favorite recipes on The Leaf. Recipes like smoothies, homemade candy bars and poppable peanut butter cups. This versatile butter is a Nutrisystem favorite—even if it’s not a real nut!