Dietitians debunk 7 myths about nuts, including concerns over protein and kidney stones

Experts debunk myths about nuts. What to know. (Getty Creative)
Experts debunk myths about nuts. What to know. (Getty Creative)

There’s a lot to love about nuts. Not only are they a portable snack, they’re also the key part of beloved foods like trail mix, nut butters and, yes, several candy bars. But while many people go nuts for, well, nuts, there’s also plenty of myths surrounding these healthy fat-filled foods, ranging from their protein content to their connection to kidney stones.

Fortunately, Yahoo Life’s experts are here to dispel all the rumors and give you the real information you need to know before you rip into your next package of chocolate-covered almonds. Here’s what experts want you to know.

Despite their name, peanuts are actually a legume (in the same family as beans), as opposed to a nut like almonds or pecans. However, even though peanuts are not technically nuts, they contain many of the same properties that nuts do, including a blend of healthy fats, protein and fiber.

It’s true that nuts are more calorie dense than many foods. For example, an ounce of almonds contains about 165 calories. Eating more calories than your body burns in a day leads to weight gain.

However, just because nuts are calorie dense doesn’t mean they will derail your weight loss plans. A new study from the University of South Australia says that adding nuts to a calorie-controlled diet won’t stop you from losing weight, and may actually aid in your progress.

“You should not be concerned that nuts will lead to weight gain since they are high in dietary fiber, protein and healthy fats which can promote satiety and decrease calorie intake throughout the day,” dietitian Shelley Balls tells Yahoo Life. If you’re worried about consuming too many nuts, she says, you can pre-portion a serving before you start snacking.

Brazil nuts are great for your health, as they contain several antioxidants that can help reduce stress and inflammation. The reason they get a bad rap, however, is due to their selenium content, dietitian Michelle Routhenstein tells Yahoo Life.

Just one or two Brazil nuts can provide your daily recommended intake of selenium, which supports immune function and thyroid health. (Think of it as a natural supplement.) However, ingesting too much selenium — whether through Brazil nuts or otherwise — can cause selenium toxicity, which she says may lead to symptoms such as “gastrointestinal disturbances, hair loss, brittle nails and neurological issues.”

In fact, it’s quite the opposite, dietitian Avery Zenker of personal training company EverFlex, tells Yahoo Life. Nuts such as almonds — which are free of cholesterol, like all plant-based foods — have been shown to improve cholesterol levels when included in a person’s diet, she says.

Nuts are rich in unsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while maintaining or even raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels, says Zenker. “They also contain fiber, plant sterols and antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which contribute to heart health and improved lipid profiles,” she says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) used to recommend that pregnant women avoid peanuts because of a belief that the exposure in utero could cause allergies in the baby. However, according to new research, they’ve revised their views and no longer suggest that pregnant people avoid any allergen-prone foods — unless, of course, they have an allergy themselves.

This is also true for people who are breastfeeding. Peanuts can actually be a great dietary choice if you’re breastfeeding, as these legumes contain both protein and folic acid, which are necessary for overall health and can support healthy milk production.

Nuts can absolutely help you reach protein goals — which is 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — while also providing fiber and healthy fats.

Here’s how much protein nuts contain per 1 ounce serving:

  • Almonds: 6 grams of protein

  • Walnuts: 4.3 grams of protein

  • Pistachios: 5.7 grams of protein

  • Cashews: 5.1 grams of protein

  • Hazelnuts: 4.25 grams of protein

  • Brazil nuts: 4 grams of protein

  • Pine nuts: 3.8 grams of protein

  • Peanuts (technically legumes): 7.3 grams of protein

Yet that’s not the whole protein story. Balls notes that nuts are considered an “incomplete protein” in that they don’t contain all nine essential amino acids needed to build cells.

“If you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, this just means you need to include other sources of incomplete proteins in your diet such as whole grains and vegetables,” Balls explains.

While nuts provide a good amount of protein, they’re known primarily for being rich in healthy fats. If you eat a plant-based diet, you can also include things like beans, seeds and soy to meet your protein needs.

Still, Balls says that swapping less nutrient-dense animal-based proteins (such as processed meat, which is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization) for nuts can promote better health. This might look like spreading nut butter on whole wheat waffles instead of having them with a side of bacon, for example.

Nuts are oftentimes said to cause kidney stones as they can be high in oxalates. Oxalates are compounds that can bind with minerals like calcium, potentially forming crystals that contribute to kidney stones.

However, dietitian Jennifer Hernandez, who is board-certified in renal nutrition, tells Yahoo Life that “oxalates are rarely a problem for kidney stone patients,” and therefore, eating too many nuts are not usually the cause of these stones. “What can be more protective against kidney stones is drinking plenty of fluids, limiting salt and getting enough calcium at meals and snacks,” Hernandez explains.

But Hernandez says that if someone is experiencing high oxalates in their urine, “limiting very high oxalate foods may be a wise choice.”

Not every type of nut has the same oxalate content, she says. If you regularly snack on almonds, which have a higher amount of oxalates, consider swapping them out for walnuts or pistachios, which are lower oxalate options.