Paleo is easy in theory. “Just eat like a hunter and gatherer, you’ll be fine!” Well, as simple as that is to say, most of us haven’t lived off the land. So unless you’re a modern-day Davy Crockett, it’s nice to have a list of dos and don’ts on the frontend. Once you get those down, you can stock your fridge with trustworthy foods and never look back.
But having a full fridge is just part of it; you need healthy snacks, too! And there are few snacks more protein, fat, and calorie-dense than nuts.
So where do nuts fall in the paleo picture?
Can you eat nuts on the paleo diet?
Absolutely, but practice moderation. Nuts and seeds have been here before humans ever existed, so it’s safe to say that early humans had nuts as part of their diet. We’ve been scrounging through bushes and picking trees since day one. With this in mind, nuts are certainly paleo.
The peanut dilemma
Peanuts aren’t actually nuts. The name is misleading. They’re actually pod-based seeds, so they are classified as legumes. Legumes are vegetables like peas, soybeans, and beans. Legumes contain lectins, which could cause damage to the gut lining. The protein peanut agglutinin can also affect your intestines[*].
This is one of the most contentious issues in paleo culture, with some people adamantly arguing against the legitimacy of peanuts on paleo and others taking a more casual approach. Critics say they have a relatively large amount of a compound called phytate, which binds to minerals in the food itself and limits the nutritional value we receive when we eat them[*].
That being said, peanuts are definitely not bad for you. Peanuts contain a range of polyphenols, antioxidants, flavonoids, and amino acids. Research has shown all of these components to be beneficial to human health[*].
So should you be a paleo-dieter that avoids all legumes, or should you be a paleo-dieter that purposefully incorporates peanuts into their diet? We’ll leave that up to you.
Now that you understand where peanuts fit into the paleo diet, let’s look at a few other popular nuts before going over a master list of paleo nuts.
Are cashews paleo?
Yes! Cashews are so tasty and a wonderful way to add a rich, creamy texture to food. One of my favorite ways to use cashews is to make cashew cream, which you can use as a substitute for cheese. This cashew mac and cheese recipe from Cookie & Kate is to die for!
They’re also a great snack to have around the house, with plenty of minerals like calcium and iron[*].
Are pistachios paleo?
Yup! Pistachios are my favorite. They’re dangerous, but I also like to buy seeded pistachios exactly because they take a bit more effort to open. It takes more time to eat, and it makes it easier for me to stop before snacking too much. You could argue that because pistachios grow on trees they are “technically” seeds, but people tend to put pistachios in the nut camp much more than their misleading peanut cousins.
They also contain a good amount of protein, nutrients, healthy fatty acids and antioxidants, and pistachios have been shown to have a positive effect on your blood pressure[*].
Are almonds paleo?
Arguably the most snackable of all nuts, almonds are incredibly popular in snacks and on top of salads. Almonds are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein, and various important nutrients, which make them a good snack to have around if you eat them in moderation[*].
The master list of paleo diet nuts
Okay! Now let’s go over all of your options. Stick to buying these nuts and seeds, and you’ll be safely in the paleo ballpark.
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Pine nuts
- Macadamia nuts
Note: US Wellness Meats carries a variety of organic nuts and trail mixes, including raw almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts and more!
Why you should go nuts for nuts
Now that you have your master list, let’s talk a bit more about why nuts are a good option for paleo snacking. Here are three reasons according to Harvard Medical School why you should add nuts to your diet.
1. Packed full of nutrients
According to SELF Nutrition Data, one ounce of mixed nuts contains:
- Calories: 173
- Protein: 5 grams
- Fat: 16 grams, including 9 grams of monounsaturated fat
- Carbs: 6 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Vitamin E: 59% of your daily value (DV)
- Magnesium: 83% of DV
- Phosphorus: 66% of DV
- Copper: 118% of DV
- Manganese: 134% of DV
- Selenium: 286% of DV
With so many healthy fats, proteins, and minerals, nuts offer a healthy way for you to snack. They’re not a complete food, but they are definitely a worthy addition to a rounded diet.
2. Help you feel full
With all the protein and fats found in nuts, you’re more likely to feel full than on other snack foods. So measure out a small amount so you don’t destroy half of your daily calorie intake, and chomp away, friends.
3. Lower risk of blood clots & relax blood vessels
There’s evidence that Omega 3s may work similar to aspirin and keep blood from clotting, and nuts also have an amino acid that contributes to relaxing blood vessels[*]. This is obviously just a small component of the nutritional choices you need to make to promote healthy blood, but it’s something to keep in mind.
How to safely incorporate nuts into your paleo diet
We’ve covered a little of this already, but nuts are great when eaten in appropriate portions. Nuts sometimes get a mixed review because they are so calorie-dense and easy to eat, but just because something is rich doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy relationship with them!
1. Measure your snacking
Besides keeping track of your calories, one reason to track your nut intake is to prevent an over intake of PUFAs. PUFAs are polyunsaturated fats—one of the three main types of fat alongside monounsaturated fat and saturated fatty acids[*]. While you’d have to eat a high amount of PUFAs to develop health concerns, there are some sources that say PUFAs contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
2. Avoid blanched nuts
Blanching nuts is the process of submerging nuts in hot water and removing the skins. Some recipes call for blanched nuts as an aesthetic choice, and others recommend it to make the texture smoother in recipes. When snacking, we recommend keeping the skins on or buying nuts with the skins since they contain healthy fibers and antioxidants. Think of them in the same vein as apples. It’s not as dramatic as the nutrient drop that occurs when you remove apple skins, but they’re still worth keeping on!
3. Use them as accents on tops of meals or salads
It’s really easy to over snack on nuts, so instead of just keeping a big bag around the house that’s easy to access, try portioning them out when taking them in meals and only using them as toppings, or at the most a little side. One of our favorite paleo salads with sliced almonds is a strawberry basil salad.
Here’s a great recipe for that: Paleo Strawberry Almond Salad
4. Eat them as alternative butters
Another option is to skip having a bag around the house altogether and just stick to butters. You need to be careful about the sugars and additives found in nut butters, but once you find a brand you trust you can keep it around for an easy snack. We like to put it on apples or just sneak a spoonful from time to time.
And there you have it! Everything you need to know about paleo nuts. Good luck on your paleo journey, and remember to enjoy nuts and seeds but eat them in moderation!
Be sure to check out our paleo-friendly nut selections!
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.