The more the merrier - but maybe not in this case...

Nuts and seeds can certainly be a great choice – as a snack, spread, sprinkled over a salad or in your yoghurt – but moderation is key. You’re probably thinking: “Why in moderation.. nuts and seeds are a great choice, right?”

In this blog we will explain why we recommend eating nuts and seeds in moderation. Most nuts and seeds contain a fat ratio that is non-optimal for your health. They contain monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids. In many nuts and seeds there are two fatty acids that are out of balance. These are the so-called polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.

The effect of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids on your health

Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids – your body can not produce these fatty acids itself. So it’s important that you consume both with your diet. Omega-6 is important for normal growth and development of children and for healthy skin (1). Omega-3 fatty acids work anti-inflammatory in your body (2), and a low consumption – especially in combination with an unbalanced omega-6/omega-3 ratio – increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other autoimmune diseases (3,4). It also increases the risk of chronic diseases (2,3), and the risk of sarcopenia, weakening of your bones (5). As we just mentioned, especially the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is very important for your health and to prevent obesity (6), which is due to the increased risk of inflammation in your body when the ratio is out of balance. 

So, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both essential for good health, and it’s important to keep the balance between omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids you consume in check. The ideal ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is within 1:1 to 4:1. However, in our Western diet the average ratio omega-6/omega-3 is 16:1 (3)

This means that on average we consume 16 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6/omega-3 ratio in different nuts and seeds

In the table below you can find the amount of total fat, omega-6 and omega-3 fats, as well as the omega-6/omega-3 ratio for different nuts and seeds (7).

Type

Total fats,

per 100 grams

Omega 6, 

per 100 grams 

Omega 3, 

per 100 grams 

Ratio (omega-6/omega-3)

Almonds

53,4 g

13,9 g

0,1 g

139/1

Walnuts

68,1 g

36,8 g

7,2 g

7/1

Pecans

72,0 g

20,6 g

1,0 g

20/1

Brazil nuts

67,1 g

23,9 g

239/1

Macadamia nuts

76,1 g

1,3 g

0,2 g

6,5/1

Hazelnuts

63,0 g

8,1 g

0,1 g

81/1

Cashewnuts

48,9 g

8,0 g

80/1

Pistachios

48,3 g

12,9 g

0,2 g

64,5/1

Peanuts

51,7 g

9,4 g

94/1

Sunflower Seeds

56,5 g

32,1 g

0,1 g

321/1

Pumpkin Seeds

47,2 g

23,6 g

0,1 g

24/1

Chia Seeds

30,7 g

5,8 g

17,8 g

0,3/1

Pine nuts

50,7 g

20,7 g

0,7 g

30/1

Flaxseeds 

31,0 g

4 g

16,6 g

0,2/1

Hemp Seeds

48,8 g

28,7 g

9,3 g

3/1

Sesame Seeds

55,0 g

23,8 g

0,1 g

238/1

Poppy Seeds

35,6 g

22,0 g

0,2 g

110/1

As you may have noticed, most nuts and seeds contain high amounts of omega-6, and only small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

By adding nuts and seeds to your breakfast, then taking a handful of nuts as a snack, and using peanut butter as a spread with your lunch, you unintentionally consume a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and – relatively – just a tiny amount of omega-3. Now you probably understand why the omega-6/omega-3 in Western diets is so high.

Sources of omega-3 fats

Fatty fish and seafood contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon, sardines, eel, herring, mackerel and trout. But tinned fish in sunflower oil, like tuna and sardines often contain a lot of omega-6 – because of the oil. So that is something to keep in mind. And as you’ve seen in the table, chia seeds and flaxseeds are also good plant-based sources of omega-3. Walnuts and hemp seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids in smaller amounts, but since they’re high in omega-6, we’d advise you not to thoughtlessly eat these.

Following a low-carb diet? Be careful with your nut intake!

Did you notice that in a lot of low-carb products and recipes nuts are used as a carb replacement – especially almonds (almond flour, almond milk, almond butter, to just name a few). Because of that, low-carb can be higher in omega-6, and this easily adds up to an unhealthy omega-6/omega-3 ratio.

A little bit of nuts and almond flour is – of course – not the end of the world. But when you consume a lot of almond substitutes and you notice signs of inflammation (e.g. weight gain, skin problems, joint pain) it’s worthwhile to reduce this.

Next time you follow a recipe, try and look for recipes that contain both almond and coconut flour, or only coconut flour. And swap your almond milk for coconut or oat milk (double check if the brand you use doesn’t contain any vegetable oils – yep it often does!).


Balance is key

The bottom line: nuts and seeds can be a healthy choice, but be mindful about the sort you eat and the amount too.

Add chia seeds or flaxseeds to your meals more often and incorporate oily fish and seafood into your diet for an omega-3 boost – at least once a week. As we said, balance is key!

Do you want to start your day with a delicious and filling breakfast full of omega-3 and with a perfect fat ratio? Check out this yummy chia pudding or the raspberry pancakes to kickstart your day! Are you looking for the perfect weekend snack? Try out these seed crackers (with a omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 1:1,2)!

References

  1. Omega 6. Voedingscentrum. Omega 6 | Voedingscentrum
  2. Rutting S, Xenaki D, Lau E, Horvat J, Wood L. G, Hansbro P. M, Oliver B. G. Dietary omega-6, but not omega-3, polyunsaturated or saturated fatty acids increase inflammation in primary lung mesenchymal cells. American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. 2018; Dietary omega-6, but not omega-3, polyunsaturated or saturated fatty acids increase inflammation in primary lung mesenchymal cells – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Simopoulos A. P. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 2002; The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Recente studie geeft inzicht in effect EPA/DHA op omega 3-index. Orthokennis. 2020; https://www.orthokennis.nl/nieuws/recente-studie-effect-EPA-DHA-op-omega-3-indexRecente studie geeft inzicht in effect EPA/DHA op omega 3-index | Stichting OrthoKennis
  5. Simopoulos A. P. Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy . 2006; Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Simopoulos A. P. An increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acid ratio increases the risk for obesity. Nutrients. 2016; An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu. Nederlands Voedingsstoffenbestand. 2019; NEVO (rivm.nl)

Nuts and seeds are super healthy, right?