What amount of nuts is considered healthy?

As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it's still a lot of calories. That's why you should eat nuts in moderation. Ideally, you should use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products.

Instead of eating unhealthy saturated fats, try substituting a handful of nuts or a tablespoon or two of a nut spread. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week. Select raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil.

A serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won't do your heart any good.

Does it matter what kind of nuts you eat?

Possibly. Most nuts appear to be generally healthy, though some more so than others. Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it's been shown they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy.

Keep in mind, you could end up canceling out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they're covered with chocolate, sugar or salt.

Here's some nutrition information on common types of nuts. All calorie and fat content measurements are for 1 ounce, or 28.4 grams (g), of unsalted nuts.
Type of nut Calories Total fat
(saturated/unsaturated fat)*
Almonds, dry-roasted 169 15 g (1.1 g/12.9 g)
Almonds, raw 163 14 g (1.1 g/12.2 g)
Brazil nuts, raw 186 19 g (4.3 g/12.8 g)
Cashews, dry-roasted 163 13.1 g (2.6 g/10 g)
Chestnuts, roasted 69 0.6 g (0.1 g/0.5 g)
Hazelnuts (filberts), dry-roasted 183 17.7 g (1.3 g/15.6 g)
Hazelnuts (filberts), raw 178 17 g (1.3 g/15.2 g)
Macadamia nuts, dry roasted 204 21.6 g (3.4 g/17.2 g)
Macadamia nuts, raw 204 21.5 g (3.4 g/17.1 g)
Peanuts, dry roasted 166 14 g (2g/11.4 g)
Pecans, dry roasted 201 21 g (1.8 g/18.3 g)
Pistachios, dry roasted 161 12.7 g (1.6 g/10.5 g)
Walnuts, halved 185 18.5 g (1.7 g/15.9 g)

*The saturated and unsaturated fat contents in each nut may not add up to the total fat content because the fat value may also include some nonfatty acid material, such as sugars or phosphates.

How about nut oils? Are they healthy, too?

Nut oils are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, but they lack the fiber found in whole nuts. Walnut oil is the highest in omega-3s. Nut oils contain saturated as well as unsaturated fats. Consider using nut oils in homemade salad dressing or in cooking. When cooking with nut oils, remember that they respond differently to heat than do vegetable oils. Nut oil, if overheated, can become bitter. Just like with nuts, use nut oil in moderation, as the oils are high in fat and calories.

Feb. 19, 2014 See more In-depth