Are Nuts Good for Managing Blood Sugar?

It's the middle of the afternoon, you are stressed and hungry but have a major project you have to finish up before you can call it quits. Thinking it will help, you grab an iced coffee or energy drink to help you power through.

four bowls filled with nuts: cashews, almonds, pecans, and peanuts

It works great for an hour and then you hit a wall. You’re tired and can’t concentrate. Before you know it, you are distracted, scanning your phone, or find yourself nodding off. Maybe you hit the kitchen or break room again for something else to eat or drink to give you another boost. 

You probably didn’t think about how those choices may be impacting how quickly you “crashed.” But, those mid-afternoon slumps do have a lot to do with what you eat and drink because they affect your blood sugar.

Let’s look at how nuts might be a good choice for preventing blood sugar spikes and energy slumps. 

So, Are Nuts Good for Stabilizing Blood Sugar?

Yes! nuts are an excellent food if you are trying to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

  • High in protein, fiber, and healthy fats
  • Help with a slow and steady release of sugar into your bloodstream
  • Nuts contain some carbohydrates, but the glycemic index is low

<p class="pro-tip">Glycemic index measures a food’s predicted impact on blood sugar. Read more about the glycemic index and glycemic load.</p>

While nuts are high in fat, you may think eating them would lead to weight gain.2 Yet, the opposite seems to be true. Not only do people not gain weight, but they also have improved body composition. Because nuts are high in healthy fats and fiber, they tend to be satiating, minimizing hunger pangs.2

A 2018 meta-analysis study did not find an association between nut consumption and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. However, participants did have a decrease in fasting blood sugar, as well as a reduction in cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.3

Best Nuts for Blood Sugar and Energy

The 6 top nuts for stable blood sugar:

  • Almonds 
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

Almonds 

A serving of almonds is 1 oz. which equals approximately 23 almonds or a small handful. Each serving contains about 160 calories, 6g protein, 14g fat 6g carbohydrates, 4g of fiber, and 1g sugar.4 Almonds have the highest Vitamin E content of all tree nuts, providing about 50% of the daily value in one serving. They are also rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats - the better for you fats.4

An illustration of three almonds
Almonds are the most consumed tree nut in the world. Research has shown that almonds help with stabilizing glucose levels and improve insulin resistance markers.

A randomized study found that snacking on almonds reduced blood glucose levels and improved feelings of satiety in people at risk for diabetes. They also experienced no weight gain.5

In an earlier trial, researchers found that eating 60g of almonds a day as part of a healthy diet reduced fasting glucose levels and markers of insulin resistance. The participants also had improvements in their body fat and reduced total cholesterol and LDL levels.6

<p class="pro-tip">Tip: Add chopped almonds to overnight oats for a boost of protein, fiber, and a healthy dose of Vitamin E and potassium.</p>

Cashews

One oz. serving of cashews is about 18 nuts or ¼ cup. A serving contains about 160 calories, 4g protein, 13g fat, 9g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, and 1.5 g sugar.7

While cashews have the most carbohydrates of all nuts they are the lowest in fat with the majority coming from monounsaturated fat. 

An illustration of roasted cashews
Cashews are a good source of zinc and contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are important for eye health.

Cashews have gotten a bad rap because they are higher in saturated fat than other nuts, however, some research has shown that eating cashews in place of a high carbohydrate snack improved cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.9

A small study of 50 people with type 2 diabetes looked at those who ate cashews daily for 8 weeks compared to those who did not. The cashew eaters had lower serum insulin levels and reduced LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratios. More research is needed but these results are promising and cashews and cashew products can be part of a healthy diet.10

<p class="pro-tip">Tip: Cashew milk is a rich dairy alternative that works well in coffee drinks or to make a cream sauce. Check the added sugars on the label or you can make your own by soaking the 1 cup of nuts in 4 cups of water for a few hours. Drain and blend the cashews and 2 cups of water in a blender until smooth.</p>

Pistachios

A 1 oz. serving of pistachios contains 160 calories, 6g protein, 13g of fat, 8g carbohydrates, and 3g fiber.11

An illustration of pistachios, unshelled
Pistachios are a great source of nutrients. 

Now that shelled pistachios are so readily available (and easier to eat) you may be wondering if pistachios are a nut you should include in your diet. Especially if you are trying to maintain your weight and stabilize your blood sugar.

In a small study, eating pistachios with white bread reduced the glycemic response significantly.12

Another recent study found that people with diabetes who ate pistachios twice a day had lower blood sugar levels compared to people who ate none.13

<p class="pro-tip">Tip: Chopped pistachios add a beautiful rich color and flavor to whole-grain rice pilaf or a grain bowl. Add a tablespoon or two just before serving for a gorgeous pop of color. </p>

Peanuts

A serving of peanuts is about 28 nuts and contains about 160 calories, 7g protein, 14g fat, 5g carbohydrates, 2.5g fiber, and 1g sugar.14

An illustration of peanuts, unshelled
Peanuts are actually a legume (bean) rather than a tree nut, but they are used like nuts so they are often included in the nut category.

Peanuts are a good source of plant-based protein and 80% of their fat comes from unsaturated fats. They are also very low on the glycemic index scale and are helpful in stabilizing blood sugar levels.15

Peanuts and peanut butter, when added to a high-glycemic breakfast helped stabilize blood glucose levels and improve satiety in women at risk for type 2 diabetes.16

In another small study with people with type 2 diabetes, eating peanuts and almonds in place of a higher starch food resulted in improvements in blood sugar levels and no change in body mass index.17

<p class="pro-tip">Tip: Add 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to whole-grain toast or use it as a dip with vegetables for an afternoon snack.</p>

Pecans

A 1 oz. serving of pecans contains about 200 calories, 3 g protein, 20g fat, 4 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, and 1 g sugar.15,18

An illustration of a pecan, shelled
Pecans are low on the glycemic index scale and contain ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

Pecans are higher in fat than other nuts, but some of that fat comes from ALA omega-3 fatty acids which have some anti-inflammatory properties and are a good source of zinc. 

In a small study with overweight and obese patients, eating 1.5 oz. of pecans daily reduced fasting insulin and improved insulin resistance. The patients also had improvements in their cardiovascular risk with reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure.19

<p class="pro-tip">Tip: Pecans are a great substitute for breading on fish, chicken, or eggplant. Crush the pecans. Dip the fish, chicken, or eggplant in an egg and then roll them in the crushed pecans and bake.</p>

Walnuts

A 1 oz. serving contains 190 calories, 4 g protein, 18g fat, 4g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, and 1g sugar. But what is most special about walnuts is that they are a good source of the heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acid, ALA.20

An illustration of a walnut, shelled
Walnuts are often touted for their health benefits, and for good reason. 

Walnuts are known to have a positive impact on blood lipid levels but their impact on blood sugar levels has been less clear. In a large study with people at high risk for diabetes, those who ate walnuts, compared to those who didn’t, had a lower risk of developing diabetes.21

<p class="pro-tip">Tip: Add chopped walnuts and chia seeds to a smoothie for breakfast or an afternoon snack for some extra protein and fiber.</p>

Eating Nuts Is Good for Your Health

Tree nuts and peanuts are nutrient-rich foods that offer many other health benefits and should be part of a healthy diet.2,22

  • Heart Health: While nuts are high in calories and fat, the fat they contain is “good” fat, called unsaturated fats. They are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats which are known to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels which reduces the risk of heart disease.2,22
  • Gut Health: Nuts are a good source of dietary fiber and healthy fatty acids and antioxidants. They provide nutrients for healthy bacteria to use throughout our GI tract. Early research in this area shows that nuts may have an impact on the health of our GI tract.23 More research is needed to fully understand how they can be beneficial.
  • Brain health: In a large systematic review, walnuts showed a beneficial effect on brain function, including improvements in memory in older adults.24 Walnuts are rich in ALA Omega 3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation and have neuroprotective effects.
  • Weight control: While nuts are high in fat and calories, they often replace other foods in the diet. Research does not show that people who eat nuts experience an increase in weight.2

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/metabolic-health-nut-butters">how nut butters can support metabolic health</a>.</p>

FAQs About Nuts and Blood Sugar

Are There Any Nuts You Should Avoid?

Most plain nuts are fine, but there are a few types that may contribute to a bit of a blood sugar spike.

Sugar-coated nuts and honey roasted nuts may be the most obvious nuts that aren't helpful. The extra sugar just isn't a good idea if you are trying to keep your blood sugar stable.

The same can is true for chocolate and yogurt-coated nuts. That chocolate or yogurt coating often contains a lot of sugar. Look at the ingredient list and you'll see that sugar is one of the first ingredients.

Nuts are nutrient-rich foods that are full of protein and dietary fiber and are a great option for helping to stabilize your blood sugar. They are low in the glycemic index, will fill you up, and won’t cause a blood sugar spike. Enjoy them as a snack, and good to add to entrees, salads, and breakfasts.

Why Are Stable Blood Sugar Levels Important?

When your blood sugar is stable you have more consistent energy levels. This leads to better concentration and mood and fewer swings in your appetite. 

Wild swings in your blood sugar on the other hand can cause a big surge in your blood sugar that is often followed by a huge dip. These highs and lows leave you feeling tired, hungry, moody, and irritable. You may also experience “brain fog” or an inability to concentrate. You’ve likely heard of this as a “sugar crash.”

So what’s going on? When you eat a lot of sugar or eat inconsistently, your blood sugar bounces up and down. Your pancreas tries to keep up and starts releasing too much insulin. Over time your cells stop responding to insulin, which is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance may lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain.4

<p class="pro-tip">Read more about the importance of stable blood sugar and how to maintain it.</p>

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References

  1. Ginsberg H. N. (2000). Insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. The Journal of clinical investigation, 106(4), 453–458. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI10762 
  2. de Souza, R., Schincaglia, R. M., Pimentel, G. D., & Mota, J. F. (2017). Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 9(12), 1311. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9121311 
  3. Kim, Y., Keogh, J., & Clifton, P. M. (2018). Nuts and Cardio-Metabolic Disease: A Review of Meta-Analyses. Nutrients, 10(12), 1935. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121935 
  4. U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central. (2019). Nuts, Almonds. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170567/nutrients
  5. Tan, S. Y., & Mattes, R. D. (2013). Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(11), 1205–1214. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.184 
  6. Li, S.C., Liu, Y.H., Liu, J.F., Chang, W.H., Chen, C.M., & Chen, C.Y.O. (2010). Almond consumption improved glycemic control and lipid profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, 60(4), P474-479. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2010.04.009 
  7. U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central. (2019). Nuts, cashew nuts, dry roasted, without salt added. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170571/nutrients 
  8. American Optometric Association. (n.d.) Retrieved May 4, 2022 from https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/caring-for-your-eyes/diet-and-nutrition?sso=y 
  9. Man, E., Schulz, J.A., Kaden, V.N., Lawless, A.L., Rotor, J., Mantilla, L.B., & Lisa, D.J. (2017). Cashew consumption reduces total and LDL cholesterol: a randomized, crossover, controlled-feeding trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105(5), 1070–1078. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.15003 7
  10. Darvish Damavandi, R., Mousavi, S. N., Shidfar, F., Mohammadi, V., Rajab, A., Hosseini, S., & Heshmati, J. (2019). Effects of Daily Consumption of Cashews on Oxidative Stress and Atherogenic Indices in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized, Controlled-Feeding Trial. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 17(1), e70744. https://doi.org/10.5812/ijem.70744 
  11. U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central. (2019). Nuts, pistachio nuts, raw. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170184/nutrients 
  12. Kendall, C., Josse, A., Esfahani, A. et al. The impact of pistachio intake alone or in combination with high-carbohydrate foods on post-prandial glycemia. Eur J Clin Nutr 65, 696–702 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2011.12 
  13. Parham, M., Heidari, S., Khorramirad, A., Hozoori, M., Hosseinzadeh, F., Bakhtyari, L., & Vafaeimanesh, J. (2014). Effects of pistachio nut supplementation on blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized crossover trial. The review of diabetic studies : RDS, 11(2), 190–196. https://doi.org/10.1900/RDS.2014.11.190 
  14. U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central. (2019). Peanuts, virginia, raw. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172434/nutrients
  15. NHRMC - Novant Health. (n.d.) Retrieved May 4, 2022 from https://www.nhrmc.org/~/media/testupload/files/low-gylcemic-meal-planning.pdf?la=en 
  16. Reis, C., Ribeiro, D., Costa, N., Bressan, J., Alfenas, R., & Mattes, R. (2013). Acute and second-meal effects of peanuts on glycaemic response and appetite in obese women with high type 2 diabetes risk: A randomised cross-over clinical trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 109(11), 2015-2023. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512004217  
  17. Hou, Y. Y., Ojo, O., Wang, L. L., Wang, Q., Jiang, Q., Shao, X. Y., & Wang, X. H. (2018). A Randomized Controlled Trial to Compare the Effect of Peanuts and Almonds on the Cardio-Metabolic and Inflammatory Parameters in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Nutrients, 10(11), 1565. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111565 
  18. U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central. (2019). Nuts, Pecans. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170182/nutrients
  19. McKay, D., Eliasziw, M., Chen, C., & Blumberg, J. (2018). A Pecan-Rich Diet Improves Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 10(3), 339. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030339 
  20. U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, FoodData Central. (2019). Nuts, Walnuts, English. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170187/nutrients 
  21. Arab, L., Dhaliwal, S. K., Martin, C. J., Larios, A. D., Jackson, N. J., & Elashoff, D. (2018). Association between walnut consumption and diabetes risk in NHANES. Diabetes/metabolism research and reviews, 34(7), e3031. https://doi.org/10.1002/dmrr.3031 
  22. Khalili, L., A-Elgadir, T., Mallick, A. K., El Enshasy, H. A., & Sayyed, R. Z. (2022). Nuts as a Part of Dietary Strategy to Improve Metabolic Biomarkers: A Narrative Review. Frontiers in nutrition, 9, 881843. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.881843 
  23. Creedon, A. C., Hung, E. S., Berry, S. E., & Whelan, K. (2020). Nuts and their Effect on Gut Microbiota, Gut Function and Symptoms in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 12(8), 2347. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082347 
  24. Theodore, L. E., Kellow, N. J., McNeil, E. A., Close, E. O., Coad, E. G., & Cardoso, B. R. (2021). Nut Consumption for Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Review. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 12(3), 777–792. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa153 

About the Author

Laura M. Ali Headshot
Laura is an award-winning food and nutrition communications consultant, freelance writer, and recipe developer.
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