Nuts have gotten a surprising amount of flicker lately. A lot of nuts are quite high in PUFA, and most of that PUFA is omega-6 linoleic acid, which we try to avoid by avoiding seed oils. Linoleic acid is easily oxidized, accumulates in our tissues and determines our inflammatory response, is very unstable when cooked, mostly rancid on the shelf and, thanks to government agricultural subsidies and public hysteria about animal fat, is now in absolutely everything. We Primal types generally avoid it for good reason, and that tends to affect our perceptions of the O6 content of nuts.
Is There a Place for Nuts on the Primal Blueprint Diet? Should We Worry About Nuts and Omega-6 Fats? Let’s take a closer look.
How much omega-6 are there in nuts?
In a typical serving of each:
- Walnuts – 9.5 g
- Almonds – 4.36 g
- Cashew nuts – 2.6 g
- Macadamias – 0.5 g
- Brazil nuts – 7.2 g
- Hazelnuts – 2.7 g
- Pistachio – 4.1 g
- Pine nuts – 11.6 g
- Pecans – 5.8 g
So a diet rich in most nuts would probably skew the vaunted omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of tissue in the direction of inflammatory body processes … right? I mean, if you were to eat fried food in a restaurant high in O6 vegetable oil, it would be inflammatory. If you were to eat cheap Chinese food fried in cheap high O6 soybean oil for lunch every day, you would expect a good amount of oxidized LDL on your next lipid test. And if you were to supplement your diet with a few tablespoons of unheated corn oil every day, it would (in addition to gagging and / or vomiting) have a significant negative impact on your body. How do nuts differ?
Nuts are whole foods
For one thing, nuts are not just “bags of linoleic acid”. A nut is a pretty complete source of food. After all, it’s the seed of a tree, a kind of tree egg. It contains everything a tree needs to grow from scratch – fats, carbohydrates, even proteins, as well as natural antioxidants like vitamin E and many minerals.
Consider raw almonds worth 160 calories that contain 3.5 grams of omega-6 linoleic acid. What else do you understand with these PUFAs?
- 76 mg calcium
- 76 mg magnesium
- 207 mg of potassium
- 0.3 mg copper (one third of your RDI)
- 0.9 mg zinc
- 25% of your daily riboflavin
- 45% of your daily vitamin E
- Prebiotic fiber to nourish your intestines
Not bad, right? Nuts aren’t just defined by their omega-6 content.
Compare that to 160 calorie soybean oil, which contains nearly 10 grams of linoleic acid. What else do you understand with these PUFAs?
- Still nothing
You are not receiving any vitamins or minerals that contribute to your micronutrient status. You are not given vitamin E to protect the fragile omega-6 fats from being broken down. You get absolutely nothing.
While the omega-6 fats in nuts are bad on their own, the positive properties of the nuts seem to outweigh them. Ingesting whole nuts appears to reduce the markers of systemic inflammation, and inflammation is linked to a variety of ailments and ailments (obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, excess cortisol, etc.). Isolating and praising or defaming a single component of nuts is wrong without viewing them as complex food matrices containing various nutrients and other chemical constituents. In other words, nuts are foods, not individual nutrients.
Pick a nut, any nut, and you will find research shows benefits from consuming it.
Nutritional value of nuts
If the high omega-6 content of nuts were such a problem, you would likely find a reference in the literature. Instead, the vast majority of studies only find benefits for nut consumption.
- Walnuts improve the lipid profile, lower oxidative stress, increase cholesterol outflow and improve the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Pistachios dampen the glucose response to high-carbohydrate meals.
- Pecans acutely increase antioxidant capacity and decrease LDL oxidation.
- Hazelnuts reduce the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation.
- Brazil nut improve selenium status, glutathione activity and reduce inflammation.
When the omega-6 in nuts can be too much
Problems arise from constant year-round access to food, the historical availability of which has been seasonal and intermittent. If you were a hunter-gatherer, you probably weren’t collecting bushels of nuts every day – at least you didn’t find enough nuts in the wild to eat 8 ounces a day. Nuts are seasonal in the wild. Perhaps the best example of a traditional hunter-gatherer population that eats significant amounts of nuts is the Hadza in Tanzania, who only eat large amounts of Mongongo nuts during the season. You can’t go to the corner store for a sack of nuts out of season, and neither could human beings for most of our history.
Model your nut consumption according to biologically appropriate, evolutionarily congruent availability patterns and you will be fine.
If you eat a handful of almonds and Brazil nuts, you are not getting too many omega-6 fats.
Eat half a bag of almonds and Brazil nuts.
It depends on the amount.
Nuts should never make up the bulk of your diet anyway. A quarter cup as a snack isn’t going to kill you. It won’t even affect your progress. I mean you are crazy. They are not meals, and neither should they be. They are snacks, essential additions to an already nutritious diet high in animal fats, proteins, and vegetables. And on a diet like that Original blueprint which provides plenty of omega-3s from seafood to balance the omega-6s, nuts definitely have a place.
Just make sure you treat your nuts as delicious treats rather than the staple of a meal. Don’t burn your nuts or cook with the oil. It is safest to buy them raw and soak or roast them yourself. That way you control the heat and can mediate the oxidation.
Over-analyzing your food intake is a great way to stress yourself out and turn every nutritional decision, no matter how small, into an inner struggle. Avoid falling into this trap. Be vigilant in your food choices, but choose your battles wisely. Make sure you ask the waiter to cook your omelette in butter instead of vegetable oil, it is well worth the effort. Worrying about the omega-6 content of the twenty walnuts in front of you is definitely not.
Do you want to weigh your thoughts about nuts? I know many forum members have reservations so I’d love to hear in the comments section.
Thank You For Reading!