One of the most enjoyable aspects of being vegan is getting to explore the huge variety of plant-based foods provided to us by nature. Including many different plant-based foods (such as nuts) in their diet can help vegans get the nutrients they need without resorting to animal products.
Nuts are an excellent source of protein, healthy vegan fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a staple food in any diet. When considering nutrients that vegans should pay particular attention to, certain nuts are particularly valuable.
In this article, I’ll identify the best nuts for vegans to incorporate into their diets and explore their nutritional benefits so that you can be confident in getting the nutrition you need as a vegan.
The best nuts for vegans
Nuts provide a powerful boost of nutrients and antioxidants despite their relatively small serving size. While any type of nut can provide health benefits, these seven types are particularly helpful for vegans. Let’s discuss the reasons below:
Walnuts are tree nuts known for their distinct brain-like shape. Like all nuts, they’re nutrient-dense and rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals.
Just one ounce (about a handful) of walnuts contains:
- 4 g protein
- 2 g fiber
- 2.6 g omega-3 fatty acids
Walnuts are a great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid linked to improved heart health and brain function. This is easy to remember, considering their uncanny resemblance to the brain!
The ALA content of walnuts is especially helpful for vegans. The body can convert ALA to the other two types of omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA) that have powerful health benefits, but the conversion is quite low. Because of this, it’s thought that vegans may need more ALA than omnivores. Walnuts can be very helpful in this regard since they’re one of the best dietary sources of ALA.
Eating walnuts has been associated with numerous health benefits. According to a 2020 review1 paper published in Nutrients, walnut consumption may lower the risk and progression of brain disorders, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes due in part to their ability to fight oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
You can enjoy walnuts in these delicious ways:
- Sprinkled on oatmeal, smoothie bowls, cereal, and non-dairy yogurt
- Finely chopped and sauteed with lentils and diced mushrooms for a ground beef substitute
- Finely ground and added in small amounts to baked goods
2. Brazil nuts
As the name suggests, Brazil nuts are native to South America. They’re light in color and mild in flavor, with some slight bitterness.
One ounce provides:
- 4 g protein
- 2 g fiber
The most important benefit of Brazil nuts for vegans is their incredible selenium content. Selenium2 is a micronutrient with antioxidant properties and is important for thyroid hormone function, reproduction, and DNA synthesis. It tends to be lower in plant-based diets, but one ounce of Brazil nuts provides almost 10 times the amount you need in one day!
One nut contains 96 milligrams of selenium, about twice as much as the recommended daily intake of 55 milligrams. Consuming half a Brazil nut daily or one nut two to three times per week can help vegans easily meet their selenium needs.
Pistachios are known for their beautiful green color, slightly sweet flavor, and pleasantly crunchy texture.
One ounce of shelled pistachios contains:
- 6 g protein
- 3 g fiber
- Vitamin B6
- Antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, known for their benefits for eye health
Pistachios are an excellent source of plant-based protein and healthy fats that can help support muscle growth, improve satiety, and provide sustained energy throughout the day. They’re one of the best nuts for adding variety and visual interest to plant-based diets, making meals look more appetizing and inviting!
Pistachios can be:
- Eaten plain as a snack
- Added to quick breads and muffins
- Mixed with dried fruit
- Added to pesto in place of pine nuts (a great budget-friendly swap!)
- Sprinkled on oatmeal or quinoa breakfast bowls
Most everyone is familiar with almonds and their status as a health food rock star, and with good reason. Almonds are a particularly good nut source of plant-based protein and other nutrients, with 1 ounce providing:
- 6 g protein
- 4 g fiber
- Vitamin E
Almonds have the highest calcium content of all nuts, making them an important source of this bone-supporting mineral for vegans. Add more almonds to your diet by:
- Garnishing roasted or sauteed vegetables with slivered almonds
- Using finely ground almonds (almond flour) in baking
- Snacking on them raw or roasted
- Spreading almond butter on sliced bananas, toast, or bagels
- Blend almond butter in smoothies or protein shakes
- Add almond butter to stews for a creamier texture
- Stir almond butter into oatmeal and breakfast quinoa or buckwheat bowls
Peanuts are slightly higher in saturated fat than almonds, but they’re still a great source of heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They also have the highest protein content of all the nuts on this list.
An ounce of raw peanuts provides:
- 7 g protein
- 2 g fiber
- Vitamin E
One of the most practical benefits of peanuts and peanut butter for vegans is their accessibility and affordability. Finding some of the other nuts on this list may be challenging if you live in an area with limited options for groceries, but peanuts can be found in most places thanks to their popularity. This makes them a great staple source of protein in vegan diets.
Try eating more peanuts with these tasty ideas:
- Make a peanut dipping sauce to go with fresh veggie spring rolls
- Mix peanut butter with non-dairy yogurt to make a dipping sauce for fruit
- Make peanut butter sandwiches with sliced bananas or strawberries
- Dip baby carrots in peanut butter (it’s surprisingly good!)
- Try a veganized recipe for savory West African stews that use peanuts as a traditional ingredient (this one from Plant-Based Passport is delicious)
- Snack on them raw or roasted
- Spread peanut butter on sliced bananas, toast, or bagels
- Blend peanut butter in smoothies or protein shakes
If you’ve ever had cashew “queso”, you know just how versatile and delicious cashews can be! They make a great plant-based substitute for cheese and dairy-based sauces, especially when combined with cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast.
Try soaking cashews (or raw sunflower seeds as a nut-free alternative) in water overnight or in hot water for 15 minutes and using them in these ways:
- Blended with non-dairy milk or water to make a basic “cream” that can be added to soups and curries
- Blended into tomato-based or white pasta sauces
- To make cashew queso, a popular vegan cheese dip (try this great recipe from Detoxinista)
- Blended with water and lime juice to make “crema” that can be added to veganized versions of Mexican dishes (I love this Rajas con Crema Tacos recipe from Dora’s Table!)
An ounce of cashews contains:
- 5 g protein
- 1 g fiber
- Vitamin K
I may be partial to pecans since pecan trees are the state tree of Texas (my home state), but they truly do provide some impressive nutrition stats. Like other nuts, they are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats.
They’re a little lower in protein, but make up for it with their fiber and magnesium content. Just one serving of pecans provides about 8% of the daily magnesium requirements for men and 11% for women.
One ounce of pecans contains:
- 3 g protein
- 3 g fiber
- Vitamin K
Pecans have a dark, roasty flavor and can be added to the diet by:
- Grinding them with dates to use as a crust for pies or dessert bars
- Chopping them small and adding to homemade energy bites
- Eating them as a snack with dried cranberries and raisins
- Adding them to vegan stuffing or pilaf recipes
- Roasting them and adding to salads
- Using them in a breading mix for baked tofu slabs
- Adding them to roasted sweet potatoes
Health Benefits of Nuts
As we’ve seen from their impressive nutrient content, nuts are a highly nutritious and versatile food that can be an excellent addition to a vegan diet. Research has shown that nuts may have numerous health benefits, especially for vegans who may need to be mindful of getting certain nutrients.
One of the most significant benefits of eating nuts is their protein content. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues in the body and the amount of protein you need each day will increase based on how physically active you are, your age, and your health and fitness goals. It’s entirely possible to meet your protein needs with plant-based foods as long as you include protein-rich options regularly, like nuts.
A major benefit of healthful vegan diets is their high fiber content, and nuts are a great source. Fiber is crucial for maintaining healthy digestion and immunity in addition to lowering cholesterol levels and preventing chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Pistachios, almonds, and pecans are especially good sources of fiber compared to other nuts.
Nuts are also an excellent source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the latter of which includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are important for brain health, cardiovascular health, and overall well-being.
Omega-6 fats, however, sometimes have a poor reputation for being pro-inflammatory, but these concerns are largely misguided. Harvard Health3 and other health experts generally recommend increasing your consumption of omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation rather than cutting out foods rich in omega-6 fats since they are still helpful for lowering LDL and raising HDL cholesterol.
For people with poor appetites or who struggle to gain weight, nuts can be a valuable vegan high-calorie food. If your goal is to lose weight, don’t feel like you need to avoid nuts — studies show they can also help with weight loss when eaten in moderation.
Nuts provide an array of healthful nutrients and including a variety of them in the diet can help vegans get enough omega-3 fats, selenium, and zinc, nutrients that tend to be a little lower in plant-based diets. They’re also great sources of antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, and Vitamin E, important for any diet.
If snacking on plain nuts sounds boring, try some of the creative ideas I’ve listed above. Finding new ways to eat nuts is a wonderful strategy for keeping your meals fun and interesting!
Interested in eating more seeds as well? Check out my article comparing Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds!
Best Nuts for Vegans – FAQ
1. How many nuts should vegans eat?
1-2 ounces of nuts per day should be enough for vegans to reap their many health benefits. One ounce of nuts is about a handful.
2. Are nuts good for vegans?
Nuts are a healthy choice for vegans, being good sources of plant-based protein, fiber, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. They provide extra flavor, color, creaminess, and variety to vegan dishes, making them an important part of vegan diets.
Of course, you should avoid nuts if you’re allergic to them. Seeds like pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds provide similar nutrition while being nut-free.
3. What nuts are vegan?
Any and all types of nuts are vegan! Since nuts come from plants and aren’t derived from animals, vegans can safely eat any kind of nut. This includes nuts like walnuts, almonds, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans, and more.
4. Do nuts inhibit the absorption of minerals?
It’s true that nuts contain “anti-nutrient” compounds like lectins and phytic acid that can prevent the body from absorbing some minerals as efficiently, but the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health4 advises that the health benefits of plant-based foods largely outweigh any negative effects caused by lectins.
5. Should I avoid eating roasted nuts?
A common concern about eating roasted nuts is that roasting at high temperatures increases levels of acrylamide, a compound that has been shown to cause cancer in rodents when consumed in extremely high amounts. However, dietary acrylamide intake hasn’t been shown5 to increase cancer risk in humans, so there may not be enough present to cause problems.
Similar to acrylamide, concerns about roasted nuts also exist due to the presence of advanced glycation end products6 (AGEs). These are compounds that increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. They’re typically found in high-fat and/or high-protein foods like meat, cheese, butter, and nuts and tend to increase when these foods are cooked at high temperatures.
Personally, I don’t feel that vegans need to completely avoid roasted nuts. The serving size of nuts is small, so the amount of AGEs they add to the diet is probably too small to cause health concerns.
Since vegans avoid most foods that are highest in AGEs (meat, cheese, fish, eggs, and butter) and instead base their diets on low-AGEs, anti-inflammatory foods like grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, the overall diet should provide enough anti-inflammatory power to outweigh any negative effects from roasted nuts.
If you’re concerned about the AGE content of nuts but don’t like eating them raw, you can lightly toast them at home in a toaster oven or skillet. This will enhance the flavor while allowing you to control the cooking time and heat level.
- Chauhan A, Chauhan V. Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health. Nutrients. 2020 Feb 20;12(2):550. doi: 10.3390/nu12020550. PMID: 32093220; PMCID: PMC7071526.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Selenium – Fact Sheet for Consumers. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-Consumer/ Accessed 4/17/23.
- Harvard Health Publishing. No need to avoid healthy omega-6 fats. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/no-need-to-avoid-healthy-omega-6-fats#:~:text=Most%20Americans%20eat%20more%20omega,add%20some%20extra%20omega%2D3s. Accessed 4/17/23.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Lectins. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/lectins/#:~:text=The%20Benefits%20of%20Lectin%2DContaining%20Foods&text=In%20many%20large%20population%20studies,loss%2C%20and%20type%202%20diabetes. Accessed 4/17/23.
- Mucci LA, Wilson KM. Acrylamide intake through diet and human cancer risk. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Aug 13;56(15):6013-9. doi: 10.1021/jf703747b. Epub 2008 Jul 15. PMID: 18624443; PMCID: PMC6749992.
- Uribarri J, Woodruff S, Goodman S, Cai W, Chen X, Pyzik R, Yong A, Striker GE, Vlassara H. Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):911-16.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018. PMID: 20497781; PMCID: PMC3704564.