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Nuts for Protein?


Posted on March 18th, 2010 by Jeff Thiboutot M.S.

I have heard the following statements many times from clients; “I will add some peanut butter to my toast to get some protein” or “I will have a handful of almonds to increase my protein intake” and other similar statements equating nuts with protein. While these statements are not completely false they are really not representative of how nuts affect your nutrient intakes.

For starters, let’s look at what is in a typical serving of peanut butter and almonds. Keep in mind that most nuts have very similar macronutrient amounts.

Protein Carbs Fats
1 tbs peanut butter* 4g (15%) 3g (13%) 8g (72%)
1 oz almonds* 3g (13%) 5g (13%) 7.5g (74%)

For comparison, let’s look at two common protein foods, cottage cheese and chicken breast.

Protein Carbs Fats
1 cup 2% cottage cheese* 27g (59%) 8g (16%) 6g (25%)
4 oz chicken breast* 32g (82%) 0g (0%) 4g (18%)

Hopefully it is clear that nuts do not have a lot of protein per serving. In fact, nuts and seeds should be thought of as high fat foods. The two examples above show that nuts get about 72% of their calories from fat. This is not a bad thing, but because of the high amount of calories a large serving size of nuts has, using nuts for a primary protein source could lead to an excess calorie intake. For example, to get the equivalent of protein found in the cottage cheese example (27g) you would have to eat 7 tbs of peanut butter, which would equate to the following:

Calories Protein Carbs Fats
7 tbs peanut butter* 658 28g 21g 56g

However, when it comes to nut consumption and weight, the majority of evidence has found an inverse relationship. Both population and clinical trial studies have found that nut intake is associated with a lower bodyweight. (Sabate) Therefore, even though nuts are a high fat food they do not seem to contribute to weight problems.

Before concluding I wanted to highlight a few facts about nuts. Nuts are a great source of many nutrients. For example, nuts have a lot of magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, and most of the B vitamins. Nut consumption is also associated with lower rates of heart disease. (Kris-Etherton et al) Additionally, nuts have a low amount of carbohydrates and because most of their carbohydrates are fiber they have a very low net-carb count. Because of these and other aspects of nuts, nuts should not be avoided because they have a relatively high amount of fat.

I hope it is cleat that nuts are not a high protein food and most people should not try to get the majority of their protein from them. However, because nuts contain many valuable nutrients and have health promoting affects, most people should incorporate some nuts into their diet on a regular basis.

References:

Kris-Etherton, P.M. et al (2008). The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: Multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutrition; 138: 1746S-1751S.

Sabate, J. (2003). Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr; 78(suppl): 647S-650S.

* NutritionData.com

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