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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 28, 2011

Dear Mark: Are Roasted Nuts and Nut-Based Baked Goods Healthy?

By Mark Sisson
83 Comments

I type these words with cranberry stickiness under my fingernails and the faint but unmistakable scent of turkey lingering about my person (I don’t think Buddha, my white lab, has stopped following me around all weekend, sneaking in the odd lick to an elbow still glistening with turkey grease; and, yep, he just got me again). The massive poultry carcass just finished three days of simmering for stock, odd bits of breast meat and yam and solidified gravy popping up on every shelf in the fridge, empty wine bottles holding an Occupy Kitchen Counter. Ah, Thanksgiving, how I love you.

A staple of Thanksgiving seems to be fretting over holiday treats, only it’s a little different in the Primal community. Instead of freaking out over the saturated fat content of a dollop of whipped cream on a slice of pumpkin pie, we agonize over the gluten content, wonder if baking truly deactivated all the wheat germ agglutinin present in the crust, and speculate about how our gut flora will react to the fiber in the pumpkin filling. And when we make our own versions of holiday baked goods, like almond meal this or walnut flour that, we worry about the potential oxidation of the heated omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in the nuts. In fact, in the past week, I have received several questions on this very topic:

Dear Mark,

With all the delicious Primal recipes out there for holiday baked goodies, I have to wonder if they might actually be doing my health more harm than good. Does baking with nuts/nut butters turn them from a nutritious whole food and healthy snack into an oxidized omega-6 disaster?

Thanks!

Alyssa

There are several questions (and sub-questions) that need addressing here. First, do the omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in nuts oxidize when you heat them? Second, if they do, does the degree of oxidation from heating increase when you use ground nuts? Third, even if nut fats oxidize to some degree after heating, does it matter if we eat them? When the rubber hits the road, when the partially oxidized nut lipids hit the GI tract, what happens? Does eating said nut products translate to increased inflammation in the body or more oxidation of serum lipids? Well, let’s look into it.

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), I was unable to find any studies that specifically examined Primal or paleo nut-based baked goods. I did find some interesting research on the stability of nuts when exposed to heat and some on the stability of blood lipids after eating nuts. It’s not what we’re looking for, not exactly, but from the available data we can divine some useful information and perhaps even make an educated guess or two about whether that Primal pie crust is okay or not.

So, heating nuts. There’s actually not a ton of data on the effect of roasting on nut lipids, but there’s some.

What’s cool about nuts is that they’re not just passive little balls of MUFA and PUFA, nice bite-sized vegetable oil snacks. You may not want nuts to oxidize because you don’t want to eat the rancid fats, but nuts have some real skin in the game, too; if they oxidize prematurely, they don’t germinate and grow up to be trees. To avoid this, the lipids are located within individual cells, protected by dense networks of cell walls made of polysaccharides lined with phenolic compounds designed to prevent the oxidation of the admittedly fragile fats. Simply put, the stability of a nut exposed to heat depends on a few things – its polyunsaturated fat content (more PUFA means more susceptibility, more MUFA means more stability), its antioxidant content (flavonoids and other antioxidants like vitamin E protect against oxidation), temperature, and the method of heating (dry roasting is gentler, oil roasting is harsher).

What about eating them?

Roasted almonds, raw almonds, and roasted almond butter all improved lipid numbers in one study, with the butter having the smallest impact. So, roasted pulverized almonds are less good, but still pretty good.

A big review of nuts and oxidation (PDF) found that for the most part, eating nuts improves serum lipid stability. It either reduces markers of oxidative stress or increases the resistance of lipids against oxidizing. And in the studies that showed no benefit, there were also no negatives. It was either beneficial or neutral. Almonds usually had better effects on oxidation than walnuts (lower PUFA, more MUFA). Of course, though most of the studies used raw nuts, the ones that used heated nuts still found benefits. Not too much data on heated ground-up nuts, sadly. There was a study that used almond meal muffins (although they weren’t exclusively almond meal). Eating those had no effect on lipid oxidation, neither good nor bad.

In other words, if eating nuts doesn’t improve the situation, it at least doesn’t worsen it. Then again, we have to take these studies with a grain of salt and consider the subjects’ baseline diets. These were not Primal subjects on a strict Primal – but nut-free – eating plan who experienced benefits upon incorporating nuts into their diets. These studies are by and large conducted using representatives of the general population, the same general population that eats a bad diet, is overweight trending toward obese, ingests a litany of pharmaceuticals, and leads a sedentary, stressful life. Replace their Cheezits with almonds and you’ll absolutely see some miraculous health benefits. I don’t think anyone would disagree.

But what if you add nut-based muffins and pancakes to a Primal eater’s daily arsenal of grass-fed beef, coconut, liver, eggs, leafy greens, berries, and sweet potatoes? Do good things happen? Bad things? Neutral things? Now, some of us in the Primal camp are overweight, eat less-than-ideally, have a few prescriptions, and don’t move and avoid stress as often as we’d like (and indeed a lot get involved with this stuff to avoid or defeat said maladies of the general population), but we are generally better off than the average eater. But what happens?

Definitive studies on Primal treats don’t exist, so I won’t be citing anything. But I’ve gathered plenty of feedback from readers, and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of how these Primal treats affect us. As treats, as special occasions, they appear to be fine. And remember: even if those people in the nut studies who saw the most benefit from eating almonds or walnuts were strict SAD-eaters, that just indicates that the occasional Primal nut-based baked indulgence is a better cheat choice than pizza, pie, and fries.

As staples, as regular parts of the daily diet, they may cause problems.

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t eat Primal almond meal pancakes that use a cup of pure almond meal every morning for breakfast, because, well, a cup of tightly packed pure almond mass is over 1000 calories with more than 13 grams of omega-6 PUFAs. And that’s not including the eggs and coconut milk you used to bind it, the grass-fed butter you slathered on it, nor the blueberry reduction you drizzled all over it. Almonds, eggs, coconut, butter, blueberries (with, let’s face it, some sausage on the side) are all fantastic, delicious, nutritious Primal foods, but a lumberjack you ain’t (if you’re a lumberjack and you’re reading this, you have my apologies and my blessing to consume almond meal pancakes regularly). Most of you don’t need all that food every morning. There are limits. The studies that show benefits to nut consumption use reasonable amounts, usually around 50 or 60 grams, which is a large handful of nuts. 200 grams of almonds with the protective cell walls pulverized and subjected to heat? It might add up over time.

Exercise moderation with the baked goods. Be smart and pay attention to what they’re doing to your body. If you find yourself gaining weight after too many walnut meal pie crusts, maybe cancel your Amazon subscription to the nut flour variety pack. All in all? Don’t eat this stuff all the time. They’re treats. They’re not really health foods, regardless of the quality of ingredients used. Just like you wouldn’t eat cupcakes every day and think you were making a massive contribution to your health, don’t eat almond muffins every morning and call it breakfast. And remember, if you’re going to eat nuts, the best option in my book are macadamias, hands down.

Thanks for reading, and keep the questions coming.

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83 Comments on "Dear Mark: Are Roasted Nuts and Nut-Based Baked Goods Healthy?"

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Uncephalized
Uncephalized
4 years 10 months ago

As always, a reasonable and, as much as possible, evidence-based approach, Mark. Thanks!

My main wonder is why nuts seem to stall weight loss in so many people. Is it simply because they are so calorie-dense? Is it the o-6 content? Because they’re too damned hard to stop eating? All of the above?

IcarianVX
IcarianVX
4 years 10 months ago

Excellent question. With what ChocoTaco has posted in the recent past, I would tend to believe it’s the o-6 content more than the others. Almond muffins are awesome.

Steven
4 years 10 months ago

Some ideas (all a matter of degree):
Omega 6 >> elevated triglycerides >> leptin resistance
Low nutrient density per calorie >> overconsumption
(Possibly) PUFA/omega 6 >> inflammation >> metabolic damage.
It all depends on how people gained weight in the first place

Catharine
Catharine
4 years 15 days ago

They have some carbs…

Harry Mossman
4 years 10 months ago

Good summary of the limited research. Thanks.

Paul Alexander
4 years 10 months ago

Variety is the spice of life, Tony Horton keeps on saying.
It’s great to eat in a great variety of preparation methods.
These makes things taste better and certain nutrients become more available under heat, while others can be found in smaller quantities because of thermal preparation.

Coach Calorie
4 years 10 months ago

Thanks for citing those studies. I’d say the moral of the story is that while roasting nuts isn’t the perfect scenario, eating them in moderation is better than some of the alternatives. Nuts are healthy after all.

Becca
4 years 10 months ago

well said!

jakey
jakey
4 years 10 months ago

this has been one of the best in this series! best i can remember… thanks, mark!

Primal Toad
4 years 10 months ago

I’ve been waiting for a post on this. I was always skeptical of people using almond flour all the damn time but I think many have learned their lesson.

I favor macadamias, blanched almonds and pistachios but try to limit them. It’s tough when I can literally buy half a pound of blanched almonds at TJ’s in Chicago for $2.49!

Amber Lynn
4 years 10 months ago
If people are so concerned about heating nuts, maybe they could go the raw food route when making treats? There are a ton of raw food recipes out there for cakes and pies that use nut-based crusts that never need to be cooked. I try not to eat nuts except for macadamias. To be honest, I don’t really like most nuts all that much. Back when I was following conventional wisdom, I would eat plain almonds as a snack all the time. I didn’t really enjoy them; I just ate them because I was told to because they were healthy.… Read more »
Uncephalized
Uncephalized
4 years 10 months ago

One of the easiest is simply mixing equal amounts butter and ground nuts, whatever type and consistency you prefer. I love a butter-pecan crust.

Charles
Charles
1 year 3 months ago

I, I, I . . . me, me, me. We don’t care! Look up NPD and see if you have it.

Kathleen
4 years 10 months ago

Interesting article!!! I know I can never give up all my paleo/primal goodies made w/ nuts but that’s ok. At least I’ll try to practice moderation and know I’m not completely wrecking my health! Thanks again Mark!

Burn
4 years 10 months ago

completely agree. glad you cleared that up though, some people go a little too nuts on nuts!

John Marschke
John Marschke
4 years 10 months ago

On a side note, check out the long article on gluten in this week’s NY Times Magazine. It’s all about replacing gluten with processed foods and food product marketing. It makes one realize why we are in the shape we’re in.

johnnyv
johnnyv
4 years 10 months ago

As a coatings chemist I always shudder when I see recipes involving flax seeds.
Flax seed oil + oxygen + heat = varnish!
Walnut oil is similar, even omega 6 oils are used in alkyd resins but are less reactive and require metal driers for reasonable cure times.

Better to microwave a sweet potato, mash it and use that to make a muffin than almond flour in my opinion.
Better to not even bother making the muffin though.

homehandymum
homehandymum
4 years 10 months ago

That’s a good idea 🙂 I hate almond flour in baked goods. For some reason I quite like the almonds themselves, I just can’t stand the whole almond essence flavour.

Using sweet potato or pumpkin or something instead is a much better idea.

That gives me some more options for birthdays etc in this household-with-children!

fritzy
fritzy
4 years 10 months ago

Yeah, I recall reading a few of the meat recipes in Cordain’s first Paleo diet book–they called for a liberal brushing of flax-seed oil. I’m actually surprised anyone in the Paleo/Primal community takes Dr Cordain seriously anymore.

Milla
4 years 10 months ago

haha! As someone who likes painting with oils, I can say that Flaxseed/linseed oil smells like oil paint to me; actually, I think linseed oil is used in very good brands of oil paint.

earthgirl
earthgirl
2 years 11 months ago

we used to rub linseed oil on our cricket bats as kids 😉 and had (rancid) olive oil in our ears to relieve earache. Yes these oils go rancid easily and should never be used heated….

Arty
Arty
4 years 10 months ago

Good thing I hate nuts =P

Although, I do binge on boiled chestnuts ONLY every November. Nut-free the rest of the year.

gilliebean
4 years 10 months ago

Nice work Mark! I get a little nervous about the daily consumption of almond flour that many indulge in as well.

I’m confused as to why you included a study on peanuts in your list of research. Peanuts are legumes, right?

Alyssa
Alyssa
4 years 10 months ago

Thanks Mark! It really is too bad there aren’t more studies. I like the above idea to use raw recipes for nutty treats!

Pam
4 years 10 months ago

Did anyone see the PBS special on the relatively new restaurant using various chemicals (supposedly organic) to change the taste of the food it serves?

Even their menu is eatable.

Saw this over the weekend and got a little scared about messing with our food supply and all.

Vanessa
4 years 10 months ago
I use almond flour, coconut flour and flaxseed meal in most of my baking. I don’t eat baked goods everyday, maybe once a week and otherwise have the occasional handful of nuts. I was curious about this very thing, as so many in the paleosphere gasp at using nut flours. Always citing the O6:O3 ratio and oxidation. I started doing some research myself, had my O6:03 levels tested and had a lengthy e-mail exchange with Dr. Doug Bibus one of the top Omega 3 experts in the world. Conclusion, my 06:03 ratio is better than 1:1 and according to Dr.… Read more »
Maria
4 years 1 month ago

That’s good to know Pam. I confess that we would have a nut-based treat every day. I think that sometimes you just have to listen to your body. We are all very different beings, each with our own reactions to whatever we consume. I know that Paleo has turned our health around, even with ‘the daily bread’.

Meagan
4 years 10 months ago

According to the primal evolutionary philosophy, I don’t believe “Grok” would be eating large doses of either coconut or nuts regularly in baked goods. So the correct conclusion would then be that we shouldn’t be eating tons of it. Treats, like Mark said.

ChocoTaco369
ChocoTaco369
4 years 10 months ago
When I make a pie, I use 1 cup of white rice flour and 1/4 cup of tapioca starch. I’m going to stick with this approach. The lack of information on heating nuts and oxidation is a wall I’ve run into a few times. From my own personal experience, I know I can handle glucose spikes very well, but then again I’m very active. What’s the bigger threat to you? The high calories and oxidized omega 6 of a nut crust, or the increased blood glucose from a rice/tapioca crust? I’ll choose the latter every time, but that’s just my… Read more »
Mary Ellen
Mary Ellen
3 years 5 months ago
Great comment. Well stated. It comes down to priorities and what a person is more concerned with… cancer, diabetes, weight loss, or just keeping the body as stable as possible. Both sugar and oxidized omega 6 are linked to cancer, so again, which one concerns us more? These should be occasional indulgences either way. As with other commenters, I favor raw nut crusts or baking with coconut flour. (Although as Meagan stated: “According to the primal evolutionary philosophy, I don’t believe “Grok” would be eating large doses of either coconut or nuts regularly in baked goods.” …and she’s right!) Again,… Read more »
knifegill
knifegill
4 years 10 months ago
It’s so hard to squeeze info out of the scant research available, but you really make it happen, Mark. Thanks! I’m still on the once-a-week nut wagon and doing fine. But I’m not trying to lose weight anymore, just maintain it and build a little muscle. For weight loss and initial fat-burning training, I’d advise anybody to stay away from nuts for at least the first few weeks on Primal Blueprint if jumping in with both feet. For fence riders like I was, starting out with one foot in led me to eat too many nuts and I eventually learned… Read more »
Maureen
Maureen
4 years 9 months ago

Thank you!!!! I just started eating primal like a week ago and I do have serious addiction to almonds as a healthy snack. Heard it: Laying off the nuts!

PaleoMyWay
4 years 10 months ago
Hm, very interesting. When I made the switch to Primal/Paleo I started by replacing my morning bowl of cereal to “paleo cereal”. I took a mixture of almonds, macadamias, walnuts, shredded coconut, and pumpkin seeds, ground it all up and toast it in a small pan with butter. I was eating this every morning and still lost weight easily. I’ve since grown tired of the paleo cereal since discovering how to make a great omelette, but confess that my diet still contains a lot of nuts. I’ll be looking for ways to cut down a bit, although so far (6… Read more »
Diane
Diane
4 years 10 months ago

I only wish I could eat macadamia nuts! Several years of Atkins dieting resulted in an allergy to macadamia nuts. Sigh.

I also find I feel “weird” whenever I eat anything made with almond flour. Straight almonds are okay, so it could be the total volume. Lucky for me, I prefer my pumpkin pie crustless.

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Jason
Jason
4 years 10 months ago

Costco is currently carrying a 16oz bag of Gourmet Macadamias under the brand Savanna Orchards ($11.99). I understand it’s a private formulation not available on their website. The bag says they are roasted and salted with sea salt. The ingredients list: Macadamia Nuts, Peanut Oil and/or Soybean Oil, Sea Salt. They are quite oily – but damn tasty for sure… but are the wonderful qualities of the macadamias ruined by the peanut oil/soybean oil? Thoughts? Thanks.

fritzy
fritzy
4 years 10 months ago

I wouldn’t personally touch them–both oils are tremendously high in PUFAs and Soy is just rotten. Yeah, I’d say they pretty much ruined some good nuts.

pixel
pixel
4 years 10 months ago

whole foods has them raw for $13 / lb in the bulk section. spend the extra $1 if you really want them.

Jason
Jason
4 years 10 months ago

Whole Foods opens here in February – Can’t wait!

Leigh
Leigh
4 years 9 months ago

The Target near me recently started selling a huge jar (30 or 32oz) for $9.99. They are dry roasted and salted. I think they may only have it for the holiday season, so stock up!!

Also if you happen to be in New England, Shaw’s supermarket has a store brand of dry roasted macadamias for $3.99 for an 8oz jar.

PaleoDentist
4 years 10 months ago

I always worry about the Omega 6 overload when consuming too much nuts as in nut flour baking. so I just satay away. I have had great success with whey protein powder in baking. extra protein with none of the Omega 6 issues.

Erik
4 years 10 months ago

I’ve been waiting on a post like this. Wish there were more studies. Thanks!

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4 years 10 months ago

[…] Are roasted nuts healthy? […]

Ghaleon
4 years 10 months ago
I’m glad you posted this article because I eat a small (equivalent to one slice) primal pizza made with almond flour almost every day. Believe me, it’s better than eating one with whole wheat flour, which is what I used to do before I stopped eating grains. You are right about the calorie count. One of the first times I made this pizza, on my birthday, I made it with one cup of almond flour. I calculated the nutritional information of that dish using http://www.fitday.com and it had besically all the calories I should consume in one day on just… Read more »
Brenda
4 years 10 months ago

Wow, I learn as much from the comments as I do the posts! I’m gonna cut back my nuts and get moving more. Think that’s been stalling my weight loss. Thanks for the info and motivation.

Max@flavortogofast
4 years 10 months ago

why 3 days for stock? I thought poultry bones only needed more than 6 hours

Janet
Janet
4 years 10 months ago

We get a 10lb bag of Macadamia nuts (whole nuts and pieces) from Amazon for $80. They are raw and unsalted. Pop the bag in the freezer and they last for months! Best price I have found!

Milla
4 years 10 months ago

I’ve always bought nuts in bulk from farmers’ markets and stashed them in the freezer! It really keeps the nuts from going rancid; I also find it intensifies the flavour.

Jules
4 years 10 months ago

Good to know, thanks! 😀

Gydle
4 years 10 months ago

I tend to think that making “paleo” baked goods kind of misses the point of primal eating entirely… isn’t the idea to change one’s eating paradigm? to move to whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible? If you keep all the highly palatable baked stuff as a consistent proportion of calories then the paradigm isn’t shifted away from SAD, is it?

Brad C. Hodson
Brad C. Hodson
4 years 9 months ago
For some, definitely. For others who’ve been contaminated by a lifetime of SAD, that’s not feasible. It’s like saying an alcoholic should be able to drink in moderation (or shouldn’t have the occasional O’Doul’s when the cravings become hard to beat). Eating can (and has been) a drug for me in the past and the occasional almond flour or coconut flour treat helps me from giving in and backsliding. For folks like me, one sandwich on wheat flour bread (especially in the winter when I have odd cravings for soup and grilled cheese) would set off a backslide. This is… Read more »
Brad C. Hodson
Brad C. Hodson
4 years 9 months ago

“Your body are both your temple AND your laboratory. Listen to what it’s telling you and you’ll be alright.”

Is. I meant “is.” (Open palm, insert face)

Penny
Penny
3 years 3 months ago

Well said!

Sabrina
Sabrina
4 years 10 months ago
I can identify with a lot of readers here who think that any nut consumption is detrimental to our health. I have eaten Paleo 100% of the time for the past three years due to severe digestive issues (celiac and UC). I avoided nuts completely during this time. However, now that I am better, I feel that the occasional nut flour treat does wonders for my quality of life! I am so much happier now that I can indulge in a piece of carrot cake or a paleo brownie, once in a while. Mark is right to point out that… Read more »
Dawn
Dawn
4 years 10 months ago

Roasted nuts give me gas. On the other hand, raw nuts that have been soaked and then dehydrated at a low temp do not. Roasted nuts taste so much better (to me), but the raw/dehydrated ones don’t cause internal distress, which is lovely.

I enjoy baking with almond flour but don’t partake on a daily basis by any means.

GiJo
GiJo
4 years 10 months ago

LOL – my 8 year old white pitbull’s name is Buddha!!

Tatianna
4 years 10 months ago

I was wondering about almond meal too. It is hard these days as far as nutrition goes, there is a lot of conflicting info out there so I will stick to what I feel is the right thing for me to eat. If I don’t feel sick after eating something, then it’s good for me :).

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Dara Cramp
4 years 9 months ago

The WAPF recommends soaking raw nuts before roasting – what about using soaked nuts in baking?

mmmpork
mmmpork
4 years 9 months ago

Another thing the studies don’t consider is soaked and sprouted nuts vs untreated. Nuts contain phytates which can impact nutrient absorbtion. I soak mine in warm lightly salted water overnight, then dry out in a 150 deg F oven for about 12 hours. With regards to consuming them, I just listen to my body. If I’m craving them, I eat them, if not then I don’t.

Mary Enig reports that monounsaturated fats have been linked to slowing down weight loss, so if you are trying to lose weight, consider limiting monounsaturated fat intake.

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4 years 9 months ago

[…] AMRAP 7: 5 Toes to Bars 10 Wall Balls (20#/14#) Evidence based nut eating. […]

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[…] are nut-based baked goods healthy? recipe: […]

Kirsten
Kirsten
4 years 9 months ago
I think that this is good advice. When I was first diagnosed with food allergies, I went a little nuts over nuts, trying to get enough calories to stay satisfied… but there is such a thing as too much! I found that more than a few tablespoons of almond flour/butter can make me sick (stomach pain). Although almond flour treats are tasty when you are on a super-limited diet, it is really, really easy to overdo it when it tastes like a light treat but is actually packed with fat and calories. I think that my problem is my gallbladder… Read more »
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[…] JAMA study: Effect of protein on fat gain while overeating Why you want more stomach acid, not less Are roasted nuts and nut-based baked goods healthy? When eating healthy turns obsessive Seasonal affective disorder and light-box […]

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[…] exogenous sources. If you’re eating meat, olive oil, avocados, and the odd handful of nuts, you’re getting plenty of omega-9 fatty […]

Foxygee
Foxygee
4 years 7 months ago

I’m totally nuts about nuts! I could eat them all the time. There are days, when I eat literally pounds of the stuff. I know it’s too much, but I really crave them. Is my body wrong sending me this ‘message’? I’m not overweight and I otherwise try to eat really healthy, lots of greens, veg, no processed foods and lately no grains either.

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[…] around Paleo gurudom I found many cautions about eating too much of them from Cordain, Sisson and other articles. So until I sort this out – I guess, no more almonds for […]

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[…] and birds laud them. They’re self-contained little morsels of instant edibility, good raw and roasted alike. What’s not to […]

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[…] nuts or baking with nut flours and butters), I’ve been doing my homework (check here, here, and here).  I’m absolutely guilty of relying heavily on nut-based ingredients at […]

Amy
Amy
4 years 16 days ago

This is my biggest issue! I eat WAY too much almond and coconut flour “treats”. Was trying to get off the food addiction rollercoaster, haven’t quite made it. I’m going to do a 21 day sugar detox starting the beginning of October. Sigh. Been doing really well at staying primal, but still have a few kinks to iron out. Like eating massive amounts of fruit and cookies and cakes oi!

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