Which nuts is your body craving and why?
Ever find yourself suddenly craving almonds? Looking for excuses to add pecans to everything? Can't stay away from the peanut butter jar? (Okay, that's everyone at some point, right?) Evidence shows food cravings are created by the parts of our brain in charge of memory, pleasure, and reward. There may also be a connection between nutrients and cravings, but this hasn't been proven except in cases of severe deficiencies such as craving ice when iron deficient. Even so, depending on your diet and lifestyle, certain nuts may be extra beneficial. Here are some things to consider next time the craving hits.
What causes food cravings?
At the basic level, hormones are the root cause of most cravings, but they can signal both physical and physiological needs. Hormones like ghrelin and leptin control hunger and satiety to ensure you're eating enough to keep moving. But more often than not, cravings for specific foods - especially sugar and simple carbs - are actually cravings triggered by our brains and not our bellies. High fat, high sugar, and high carbohydrate foods give us a hit of feel-good hormone serotonin, which explains why we often reach for these types of snacks when we're feeling sad or stressed. Food and taste are also linked closely linked to memory and reward, so we often crave certain foods when exposed to certain situations or emotions. This explains why, for example, you might crave a peppermint mocha around the holidays but never think of it the rest of the year.
What causes nut cravings?
If you're craving nuts or nut butter, the first culprits to look to are the triggers for any craving. Are you stressed? Nuts are high in healthy fats, and one study showed that stress could lead to cravings of high fat foods. Anxious? Many nuts (like pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts) are high in a compound called beta-sitosterol, and limited studies show that beta-sitosterol may have an antidepressant effect and a stabilizing effect on the stress hormone cortisol. Craving peanut butter when you're low or tired? Your body might actually be seeking a quick hit of energy and serotonin from the sugar found in many nut butters.
You might also just be straight up hungry and in need of nutrients! If you're not getting enough fats in your diet or following a low carb diet, your body may seek these macronutrients in the form of nuts or nut butters. Luckily there's little downside in indulging your craving in moderation. Most nuts and seeds are jam packed with micronutrients that your body needs to function properly.
What nuts should I be eating?
We don’t discriminate when it comes to nuts. Assuming you don't have any nut allergies, all nuts offer lots of nutritional benefits as part of a balanced lifestyle. However, if you follow a specific dietary plan or have specific goals, certain nuts might be extra valuable to add into your routine.
Keto - Macadamia Nuts
Macadaaaaang, you should try this nut! Not only are macadamia nuts high in essential vitamins and minerals, but they are excellent sources of monounsaturated fatty acids. This attribute makes nuts great for those following the keto diet, which advises getting about 60-75% of your daily calories from fat.
Monounsaturated fats help regulate insulin sensitivity, and macadamias and their monounsaturated fat content can help boost basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy expended while at rest. And if you've been eating a lot of bacon and cheese, macadamia nuts are a good counterbalance as they're incredibly heart healthy.
Vegetarian/Vegan - Peanuts...but aim for variety
If you follow a plant-based diet, any nuts and seeds are a great addition to your meals (hello cashew "cheese" sauce). Incorporating a variety of nuts can help you cover your bases when it comes to micronutrients and fats.
But don't count out the humble peanut! Though it may technically be a legume, peanuts have the highest protein per ounce of any nut at just over 7g. In comparison, an ounce of chicken has 8g of protein, so you can keep that fun fact in your pocket for the next time someone asks "How do you get enough protein if you don't eat meat?"
Find them in: Creamy Peanut Butter
Athletic Endurance - Almonds
If you live an active lifestyle, almonds and almond butter are great go-to snacks. They're high in magnesium, manganese, and antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and a study showed that athletes who ate almonds improved their endurance and had speedier recovery times. The study also showed that athletes who consumed almonds burned more carbohydrates and used less oxygen during exercise.
Brain Boost - Walnuts
The fat found in walnuts is primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids in the form of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). All of these fats are essential for healthy brain function and cellular function.
Walnuts are actually the highest edible plant source for ALA, and they're also one of the top nuts when it comes to antioxidant levels, which makes them a winner for protecting your noggin.
Gut Health - Cashews, Almonds, and Chia Seeds
These nuts and seeds are overachievers when it comes to fiber and magnesium, both of which help keep things moving the in the digestive department. Cashews are surprisingly high in resistant starches, which makes them a great prebiotic to feed your healthy gut bacteria!
If you find digesting nuts difficult, soaking them before consumption may help the body digest and absorb the nutrients in nuts more readily. The only caveat: if you follow a low FODMAP diet for health reasons, you'll want to consume these nuts in moderation.
The Bottom Line About Nut Cravings
Reaching for nuts to satisfy your cravings rather than highly processed or sugary foods is a delicious way to give your body the nourishment it really needs to fuel you without a crazy spike and crash. In moderation, nuts and nut butters are a great source of fats, antioxidants, and other nutrients. So if you find yourself craving nuts...go nuts!