This content originally appeared on Everyday Health. Republished with permission.
By Moira Lawler
Medically Reviewed by Reyna Franco, MS, RDN of American College of Lifestyle Medicine
When you’re looking for a satisfying diabetes-friendly snack, it’s hard to beat nuts. “Nuts are a super snack food for people with diabetes because they’re the total package — low in carbs and high in protein, fiber, and healthy fat — and they create a feeling of fullness,” says Cheryl Mussatto, RD, founder of Eat Well to Be Well in Osage City, Kansas.
Nuts: A Good Choice for Diabetes and Your Heart
The healthy fat in nuts protects your ticker, says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RDN, CDCES, founder and CEO of Sound Bites in Chicago. That’s important because people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die of heart disease than those without it, according to the American Heart Association.
Heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts can lower your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, Mussatto says. “At the same time, nuts also raise levels of ‘good,’ or HDL, cholesterol,” she says. “This cholesterol acts sort of like a sanitation worker, removing cholesterol from the tissues for disposal, which prevents plaque buildup in the arteries.”
What’s more, nuts help regulate blood sugar, which makes them a better option to reach for than, say, pretzels, when afternoon hunger strikes, Mussatto says. Many kinds of nuts have this effect including almonds and pistachios.
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Why Portion Control Is Key When Eating Nuts
Though these results may seem like enough to secure superfood status for nuts when you have diabetes, there’s one other thing to be aware of: Nuts are high in calories. While they are not typically associated with weight gain, as one study noted, experts suggest measuring out 1-ounce (oz) portion sizes instead of digging into an open bag. If you overeat them, there is still a risk of weight gain.
Keep in mind that how nuts are prepared can influence how healthy they are. Avoid nuts that are coated in salt — Dobbins notes that sodium is bad for your blood pressure — and sugar. More bad news if you love the sweet-and-savory combo: Chocolate-covered peanuts and honey-roasted cashews are high in carbs and not the best choice when you have diabetes, Dobbins says. Instead, try dry-roasted or raw nuts, which are flavorful but still healthy.
As for the best nut to choose when you have diabetes, here are four options, roughly ranked in order of healthiness:
Serving size: about 14 shelled halves
According to a small, randomized controlled study, walnuts may help promote feelings of fullness, preventing unhealthy food cravings and potentially aiding weight loss. Another study of women drew a link between eating walnuts and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. “The fiber, the protein, and the good fats help manage hunger and blood sugars,” Dobbins says.
Walnuts are also a rich source of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and may help reduce inflammation, Mussatto says, making walnuts her absolute favorite nut to recommend. Inflammation is tied to diabetes, as well as other conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
Serving size: about 23 nuts
Almonds help control glucose levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and may decrease body fat mass, according to a randomized control study. Dobbins notes they are also a good source of fiber. “Fiber helps keep you full, keeps your blood sugars more stable, and is good for your digestion,” she adds.
One more reason almonds are superstars for people with diabetes: A 1-oz or about 3-tablespoon (tbsp) serving offers 80 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, making it a good source, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes. That’s helpful, Mussatto says, because many people with diabetes are deficient in this mineral. Upping your magnesium intake can help promote healthy bones, normal blood pressure, blood glucose control, and good muscle and nerve function, according to the NIH.
Serving size: about 45 nuts
“Pistachios’ trio of fiber, protein, and good fats help keep you fuller longer, making them a smarter bet than carbohydrate-heavy snacks,” Dobbins says.
A review of research found that pistachios have antidiabetic properties, improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, help control appetite, and reduce oxidative stress.
Enjoy them as a standalone snack, or build them into your meals. Dobbins suggests subbing them in for croutons on a salad or using crushed pistachios instead of breadcrumbs on baked chicken or fish.
Serving size: about 28 peanuts
Peanuts are an extremely satiating, diabetes-friendly snack, thanks to their high fiber and protein content. Not only do they have a low glycemic load (a measure of how quickly a food tends to raise blood sugar), but they may help regulate blood sugar, according to one study. It found that adding 2 tbsp of peanut butter to a meal helped to prevent postmeal blood sugar spikes (though it’s worth noting that this study involved only 16 participants and did not use a control group).
Peanuts may also be a boon to heart health, as one study found that nut consumption (including peanuts) was linked with a lower risk of developing heart disease. The British diabetes association Diabetes.co.uk points out that peanut consumption can effectively reduce LDL cholesterol.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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Kendall CWC, Josse AR, Esfahani A, Jenkins DJA. The Impact of Pistachio Intake Alone or in Combination With High-Carbohydrate Foods on Post-Prandial Glycemia. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. June 2011.
Machado de Souza RG, Schincaglia RM, Pimentel GD, Mota JP. Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. December 2017.
Balakrishna R, Bjørnerud T, Bemanian M, et al. Consumption of Nuts and Seeds and Health Outcomes Including Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Metabolic Disease, Cancer, and Mortality: An Umbrella Review. Advances in Nutrition. November 2022.
Farr OM, Tuccinardi D, Upadhyay J, et al. Walnut Consumption Increases Activation of the Insula to Highly Desirable Food Cues: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross-Over fMRI Study. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. January 2018.
Pan A, Sun Q, Manson JE, et al. Walnut Consumption Is Associated With Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Women. The Journal of Nutrition. April 2013.
Dreher ML. A Comprehensive Review of Almond Clinical Trials on Weight Measures, Metabolic Health Biomarkers and Outcomes, and the Gut Microbiota. Nutrients. June 2021.
Magnesium. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. June 2, 2022.
Mateos R, Salvador MD, Fregapane G, Goya L. Why Should Pistachio Be a Regular Food in Our Diet? Nutrients. August 5, 2022.
Lilly LN, Heiss CJ, Maragoudakis SF, et al. The Effect of Added Peanut Butter on the Glycemic Response to a High-Glycemic Index Meal: A Pilot Study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. May–June 2019.
Parilli-Moser I, Domínguez-López I, Vallverdú-Queralt A, et al. Urinary Phenolic Metabolites Associated With Peanut Consumption May Have a Beneficial Impact on Vascular Health Biomarkers. Antioxidants. March 11, 2023.
Nuts and Diabetes. Diabetes.co.uk. January 25, 2023.