If you follow ketosis but avoid nuts, some people might think you’re, well, nuts.
After all, we know nuts offer a variety of health benefits. Walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, and their kin have a sizable body of scientific research substantiating their ability to lower the risk of heart disease. Nuts have been shown to help reduce the level of "bad" cholesterol and systemic inflammation, too (with widespread inflammation being a nefarious major player in chronic health disease). The nutritional profile of nuts also boasts dietary all-stars like fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Nuts are also desirable for practical reasons. They’re easy to carry around, they’re tasty and filling, and they keep well in your fridge or freezer.
But despite these nutty accolades, it’s in your best interest to minimize your nut intake — whether you’re trying to maintain a keto lifestyle or otherwise. Let’s explore why.
The Nutty Truth
Aside from the obvious issue of an actual nut allergy, we can think of at least five reasons for not going nuts with nuts on a ketogenic diet:
1. They scream "overindulge."
If you weren’t paying attention, which would you be more likely to mindlessly overeat: roasted broccoli or roasted almonds?
The reality is, nuts pack a lot of calories in their little meaty selves. Though the general recommendation for a single serving is only one small handful, many people eat copious amounts of nuts throughout the day, which can quickly tip the scale toward the "overdoing it" direction.
The more conscious you can be about the food you’re eating, the better. Anything that promotes mindless consumption should be approached with care.
2. Compared to some other sources of fat, nuts have a much higher carb content.
One of the essential tenets of the ketogenic diet is to severely restrict carbohydrate intake so that your body, starved of glucose, will convert stored body fat into ketones for fuel. By eating too many carbohydrates, you’re effectively kicking yourself out of this powerful and highly efficient metabolic state.
To be clear, nuts certainly have a high fat content. But compared to some other healthy fat sources, nuts also much more carb heavy, which can pose an obvious problem for folks in the ketosis camp.
Of course, the relatively higher amount of carbs in a single serving of nuts is generally well-offset thanks to the high fiber content, which can bring down the net carb intake to a more reasonable level. But this is assuming you’re only eating a true serving size and not popping nuts like candy (see point one).
For example, one serving of almonds (about 1 ounce) is equivalent to 23 almonds. This measly morsel contains 6 grams of carbs. With an impressive fiber content of 3.5 grams per serving, it’ll brings you down to a net of 2.5 grams…but that’s assuming you only eat 23 of them.
Additionally, aside from eating handful after handful of nuts, a lot of people gravitate to nut butters and nut flours, which can pose an even greater problem with accidental carb overload.
3. Nuts contain a relatively high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids (found in things like nuts, corn, and soy) can be problematic for your health when consumed to excess. They’re easily oxidized, meaning they can go rancid quickly, and can negatively affect the heart, brain, skin, and other organs due to their tendency to promote inflammation and free radical production.
In the standard American diet, most people are getting way too many omega-6’s compared to the healthier polyunsaturated omega-3’s. This large ratio (compared to an ideal ratio of less than 2:1) is associated with a significantly increased risk for chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, obesity, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.
Of course, soybean oil and corn oil are the biggest culprits when it comes to the overload of omega-6 consumption, and people on ketosis generally avoid these unhealthy products anyway. But eating too many nuts can start to negatively tip the scale in the wrong direction, too.
That said, not all nuts are created equal here. Macadamia nuts, almonds, and flaxseed oil, given their fat profile, tend to be the least likely to promote an imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3.
4. Nuts contain phytic acid, which can disrupt mineral absorption.
Phytic acid is found in foods like legumes, grains, seeds, and yes, nuts. Plants store the element phosphorous in phytic acid form, and seeds can use phytic acid for protection against oxidative stress.
But this compound works a little differently in the human digestive tract. Specifically, phytic acid tend to bind to minerals like zinc, magnesium, manganese, and iron. By hooking up with these minerals in the intestines, phytic acid essentially impairs their bioavailability and prevents the minerals from being absorbed into the bloodstream. In theory, this can contribute to mineral deficiencies. Phytic acid has also been shown to interfere with enzymes needed to break down protein.
For this reason, phytic acid has earned a telling (dare we say chilling) nickname: "anti-nutrient." While there is some evidence to say phytic acid offers a few health benefits, its generally best to minimize your intake. If and when you do eat nuts, consume them separately from other foods to protect mineral absorption.
5. Nuts can cause indigestion.
Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomachaches are not unusual among people who eat nuts. Such an unpleasant reaction is likely related to a combination of factors we’ve already discussed, including high fiber content and phytic acid.
7 Fantastic (and Nut-Free) Sources of Dietary Fat for a Ketogenic Diet
Given the above problems posed by nuts, it’s certainly worth it to start restricting your intake if you don’t already. Fortunately, there are plenty of other healthy options out there to ensure you’re getting your ketosis-friendly high fat intake. So, pass more often on the nuts and nut butters and opt instead for:
- MCT oil
- Whole eggs
- Fatty fish
As for the bottom line of nut consumption, it’s best to keep it to a minimum whether you’re in ketosis on not. Most of the potential problems posed by nuts can be minimized if you commit to only eating the recommended serving sizes, eat nuts as a snack on their own, and intermittently avoid them altogether so you’re not indulging every day.
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!