Are Nuts Paleo?
Whether it’s trail mix, peanut butter, or chestnuts roasting on an open fire during the chilly time of year, Americans seem to be completely nuts about nuts, however are they paleo? They’re delicious, packed with protein, and are super convenient—you can just grab a handful and go! If they are really that amazing, it would be great if they were Paleo too. But are they?
In order to find out whether or not nuts have a place on the Paleo plate, there are a few things we have to keep in mind. They can be made in a multitude of ways; one of the most common is to roast them. But as it turns out, roasting changes the structure of their protein composition. One study that explored this found that Americans, who roast them, are much more likely to be allergic to them than, say, Chinese people who boil nuts. It looks like roasted nuts have some problems.
In addition to these allergenic properties, nuts also contain phytic acid. Being Paleo is all about avoiding toxins—especially those found in grains and legumes. Unfortunately, they have more phytic acid than grains! That’s a problem because phytic acid binds to minerals in our guts and keeps us from absorbing those nutrients.
Do they have health benefits?
On the other hand, the human body is equipped to deal with some phytic acid (a few studies show that it may reduce the incidence of kidney stones), so perhaps the benefits will outweigh that negatives. (Remember, Paleo is a spectrum.) Many nuts, especially walnuts, contain antioxidants that prevent cellular damage and slow the diseases commonly brought on by aging, like dementia. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which most Americans can always use because of the typical diet’s imbalance in favor of omega-6s. Keeping these fatty acids in proper balance helps in losing weight.
At the same time, some types like almonds are rich in fiber and vitamin E, and cashews are packed full of iron that will help oxygen get to your brain. People who eat nuts on a regular basis report increased clarity of mind and better brain function. So clearly they have a lot of beneficial properties to them as well.
The bottom line is that nuts contain the same toxin—phytic acid—as grain, except they have it in even greater amounts. While there are lots of great nutrients in nuts, our bodies may not be able to absorb them efficiently because of the way that phytic acid binds to minerals in our guts. Still, they do carry some benefits, so Paleo experts haven’t completely ruled them out of the Paleo lifestyle.
What do the Paleo gurus say?
Mark Sisson says: “If… you guys are indeed eating large quantities of phytate-rich nuts every day, don’t do that. Keep it to about a handful (which is between one and two ounces, depending on the hand) per day. Relegate your nut consumption only to the odd handful of raw nuts.”
Chris Kresser says: “Nut consumption should be limited or moderated. That being said, in the context of a diet that is low in phytic acid overall, and high in micronutrients like iron and calcium, a handful of nuts that have been properly prepared each day should not be a problem for most people.”
So are nuts Paleo?
Yes, but be careful.
They can be a great source of nutrients, but they also contain toxins that we should be trying to avoid. So don’t go nuts over nuts—instead, restrict yourself to a handful here and there. Moderation is key if you want to reap the health benefits and delicious taste of nuts without cluttering your body with toxins. Because phytic acid binds to minerals, it may be helpful to try eating nuts separately from meals so that the phytic acid does not have as many minerals to bind to.