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.