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The fats in nuts have health benefits.
It's true that all nuts are relatively high in fat and calories, but not all fats impact health in the same way. Saturated fat -- found primarily in animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs -- is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but nuts contain a much higher proportion of healthier unsaturated fats. The fatty oils in nuts are used as a source of energy storage for the plant's germ, so that it can sprout into a seedling if planted into the ground.
Purpose of Fats in Nuts
Tree nuts act as an energy storage reservoir for a tree's germ so that it's able to sprout into a seedling and grow, according to Dr. John A. McDougall, a physician and nutritional expert. McDougall notes that seeds, legumes and grains also serve the same purpose for plants, although they differ in how they store energy. For example, nuts and seeds use mostly fats for energy storage, whereas grains such as wheat and rice primarily use starch -- a carbohydrate. Legumes also use carbohydrates for energy storage, although peanuts are much higher in fats and usually included in the nut group despite being a legume. In addition to energy storage, nuts contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients -- which are also important for the seedling's growth.
Types of Fat
Fatty foods contain all three major types of fatty acids -- saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated -- but in different ratios, according to Nuts for Life, a nutritional group that represents the Australian tree nut industry. Nuts actually contain a little bit of saturated fat, but they have much higher proportions of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats -- or PUFAs -- include omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats -- or MUFAs -- include oleic and palmitoleic fatty acids. According to the Mayo Clinic, diets rich in unsaturated fats reduce blood cholesterol, decrease the risk of heart disease and help balance insulin and blood sugar levels. The fat ratio of nuts varies quite a bit, so if you add them to your diet, include a wide variety in order to balance the types of fat and potential health benefits.
Nuts with the Least Fat
According to the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends eating a handful of mixed nuts every day, which is about 1.5 ounces, or 42 grams, in order to reduce your risk of heart disease. According to the University of Massachusetts Medical School, walnuts and almonds stand out above the others in terms of health benefits and should be eaten frequently. Nuts that contain less overall fat and less saturated fat than others include almonds, pistachios and walnuts. A one-ounce serving of pistachios contains 17.5 grams of total fat, only 1.7 of which is saturated. Macadamia nuts contain around double these amounts. Peanuts, while technically considered legumes, are even lower in fat at 14 grams per serving.