Paleo Without Nuts

April 26, 2012 in Categories: by

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Nut allergies and sensitivities are surprisingly common in the paleo community.  But, even for those who tolerate nuts, there are some pretty compelling reasons to limit your intake. 

 Nuts typically contain a large amount of polyunsaturated fats, usually the proinflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.  Even the highest omega-3 content nuts (walnuts and macadamias) still have ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the neighborhood of 3 to 1, and many nuts only contain trace omega-3 fatty acids.  If we are going to all the effort to reduce our omega-6 intake by buying grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs and avoiding modern vegetable oils, it doesn’t make much sense to undermine our efforts by consuming large quantities of nuts.  Two exceptions to this concern are coconut and macadamia nuts, both of which contain a very low percentage of their fats as polyunsaturated fats.  The fat in coconut is largely medium-chain saturated fats.  The fat in macadamia nuts is predominantly monounsaturated.  Individuals struggling with inflammation should avoid nuts due to their generally proinflammatory fat content.

The other reason to avoid nuts is their phytate/phytic acid content.  Phytic acid is an antinutrient that binds to minerals, typically iron, calcium and magnesium (the minerals we rationalize our nut intake for!), in your small intestine and make the unavailable for your body to absorb.  Nuts that are high in phytic acid, such as almonds, hazelnuts and cashews, can irritate the gut in very sensitive individuals.  Sprouting raw nuts can decrease the phytic acid content, but it is controversial as to how much.  If you are sensitive to nuts, you can try soaking them overnight in water, rinsing very thoroughly, then drying out in the sun, in a food dehydrator, or in your oven at the lowest temperature.  Two very low phytic acid content nuts worth mentioning here are coconut and macadamia nuts (cool, right?).  It’s also worth noting that nuts do contain some lectins (although nowhere near as much or as damaging lectins as grains and legumes).  Individuals with established leaky gut issues should steer clear of nuts (including macadamia nuts, but coconut is typically considered a very good food for people with a leaky gut).

Nuts are very calorie dense foods.  If you are struggling to lose weight, it is worth having a critical look at your nut consumption.  It is very easy to overeat nuts because their calories are predominantly fat and it takes a little longer for the satiety signals from fat to reach our brains.  If you are generally eating low-carb, you will likely not gain much weight by overeating nuts, however.  I like Robb Wolf‘s suggestion of buying nuts in the shell.  Beyond the fact that the work involved in shelling nuts slows you down and typically reduces how much you eat, freshly shelled nuts are delicious!

I’m sorry to suggest that these incredibly convenient packages of yummy goodness are not the best choice.  But, unless you have health issues that clearly indicate complete avoidance of nuts (like an allergy, sensitivity, unresolved inflammation, leaky gut and/or autoimmune disease), there isn’t a reason to omit them altogether.  Consider nuts an emergency snack food, a special treat, and a lovely way to make salads and veggie dishes a little tastier. 


Oh, boy. You make good points but honestly I can’t imagine limiting my intake of nuts. I’ve already given up grains, dairy, legumes and sugar. Nuts are one of my few luxurious yummy foods at this point (besides chocolate and bacon).

Great post. I know cutting out nuts — or drastically reducing them — would help me to lose the few pounds that still dog me even after going (mostly) paleo. Thanks for this little reminder.

Do nut milks cause the same issues and is there any information on the omega ratio’s in these products? Almond milk would be my main concern! Thanks again!!

I’m IGg reactive to coconut and am having a hard time finding a replacement for nuts. I would eat a granny smith with some almond butter or a brazil nuts/pistachios paired with a fruit to help get me through the low energy slumps at work. Any suggestions?

Jerky? Bacon? Can of fish? Cup of broth? I can’t eat nuts or seeds or coconut either. I don’t typically snack, but if I do it’s usually a large mug of broth or maybe a piece of fruit.

Pâté is my favorite snackable. It’s really tasty with green apple wedges. I’ll also snack on half an avocado. And pemmican!

Could you suggest more recipes that are tree nut and coconut free? I am allergic to both and find it difficult to find paleo recipes without them. Thanks!

You can view all of Sarah’s nut-free baking recipes (some may include coconut) here: All of Sarah’s AIP (auto immune protocol) recipes are nut free (although some may contain coconut) and can be found here: The Paleo Approach Cookbook will be available in August and will contain over 100 AIP recipes. You can learn more about the book here: — Tamar, Sarah’s assistant

So how much is too much? Is a table spoon of almond butter a day ok? I use it for a quick snack with berries. I’m in a rush a lot

As an avid hiker, backpacker, and kayaker finding light portable foods that are nut-free and Paleo is difficult. I’m also sensitive to eggs and legumes (lectins). Any advice or direction wily be greatly appreciated as I have planned some week long trips out in the back country.

Last of my addictions to wean off of. I wish there was an easy go to snack besides my veggies and protein. Not doing grains, sugar and beans really limits my choices. I too would like some suggestions.

If, as you say, “Phytic acid is an antinutrient that binds to minerals, typically iron, calcium and magnesium… in your small intestine and makes them unavailable for your body to absorb,” then why would we ever eat them? I am working *really* hard to increase my mineral intake and keep in all those minerals! The way you wrote this article and the 9/4/12 article on AIP&Nuts, you are quoting reasons why they are problematic but then stating it’s ok to eat them.

Perhaps it’s the Omega-6, or perhaps it’s the phytic acid irritating your gut that gives you issues with them. And perhaps that isn’t a problem for your husband and kids. But if their guts aren’t as sensitive as yours, would they even know or have symptoms of mineral absorption blockages? Unless they are bingeing on nuts, they may still be getting enough minerals. But why recommend foods that have antinutrient properties? Yes they are delicious, but so are a bunch of other things that we also don’t eat because of the ways they counteract our health practices.

I would really like to see a more definitive article on nuts that addresses the antinutrient properties of phytic acid and which makes addendum to your previous articles about it.

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