It’s not breaking news that tree nuts are some of the most nutrient-rich snacks you can choose to add to your diet, and in a world filled with overly fatty, preservative-filled, downright harmful snack options, nuts like hazelnuts are filling, delicious and nutritious. Sometimes called filbert nuts, hazelnuts are a particularly good option because these marble-sized superfoods pack a potent nutritional punch.
There is some reluctance to enjoy nuts due to fear over their fat and calories. But when enjoyed in proper serving sizes, nuts can provide filling protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, and many other important vitamins and minerals. Hazelnuts contain compounds that can battle heart disease and diabetes, boost brain function, and even help you lose weight.
Hazelnuts are a particularly versatile nut because of all of the different ways they can be used. They can be enjoyed raw, roasted, in a paste or as an ingredient in countless healthy dishes. They’re commonly found in some of our guilty pleasures like Nutella (a hazelnut spread) and added to chocolate. Hazelnut flavoring is commonly used for coffee and pastries, as well as a topping and garnish for desserts and savory dishes.
But if you’re looking to enjoy the roasted, earthy flavor of a hazelnut without the added sugars, there are many ways you can do that! Between hazelnut spreads, butters, oils, flour and more, there are a number of ways to get the delicious and nutritious elements of hazelnuts into your diet. And that’s a good thing, because hazelnuts are one of the healthiest nuts.
What Are Hazelnuts?
Hazelnuts have been harvested from the Black Sea region of Turkey for at least 2,300 years. Turkey is still the world’s primary hazelnut exporter. Today, they’re also grown in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and many other parts of the world, and demand has grown substantially.
In ancient times, the hazelnut was used as a medicine and a tonic. It was mentioned in Chinese manuscripts that date back as far as 2838 B.C.
The hazelnut blooms and pollinates in the middle of the winter. After pollination, the flower stays dormant until June, when the nut begins to form. During the summer months, the nuts mature, changing from green to shades of hazel. Hazelnuts are typically harvested in late September or October after they fall to the ground.
Are they called filberts or hazelnuts? The answer is both! Filberts were the name given to the hazelnut and the tree in England when it was first introduced by French settlers.
It was named after St. Philibert, because his day (August 22) regularly coincided with ripening dates of the nuts. The English later changed the name to hazelnut, and in 1981, the Oregon Filbert Commission decided to promote the name as the production in the U.S. expanded.
1. Promote Heart Health
Tree nuts are a well-known combatant in the fight against heart disease, and hazelnuts are no exception. There are a handful of vitamins and minerals found in hazelnuts that promote heart health. Aside from being a great source of fiber, they contain a large amount of monounsaturated fatty acids, which help to reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) and increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind).
Studies conducted by the American Society for Nutrition and published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that diets high in hazelnuts and other tree nuts resulted in lowered LDL cholesterol, reduced inflammation and improved blood lipids. (1, 2) The American Heart Association also recommends that, for optimum heart health, the majority of the daily fats that individuals should consume should be monounsaturated fats, which are the same found in hazelnuts. (3)
Hazelnuts also contain a considerable amount of magnesium, which helps to regulate the balance of calcium and potassium and is crucial to blood pressure.
2. Help Manage Diabetes
When planning a diabetic diet plan, it’s important to focus on choosing monounsaturated fats over trans fats or saturated fats. Hazelnuts are a great source of these good fats, and eating recommended portions of hazelnuts as a substitute for more damaging,”bad” fat foods is a great way to ensure you gain the benefits of good fats without worrying about gaining additional weight. (4)
In a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an interesting result occurred regarding how diabetics reacted when supplementing their daily diets with tree nuts. Like other studies, it was concluded that individuals introduced to heightened nut consumption in their diets experienced lowered cholesterol levels. The surprising variable was that higher nut doses provided a stronger effect on diabetics, doing more to lower blood lipids than for non-diabetics. (5)
Diabetics with high cholesterol should consider adding hazelnuts and other tree nuts to their daily diets. Proven to improve glucose intolerance, hazelnuts’ high levels of manganese are also helpful in the fight against diabetes when used as a diet supplement. (6) Hazelnuts are also a great source of magnesium, which has been proven to decrease the risk for diabetes. (7)
3. Filled with Antioxidants
Hazelnuts have many vitamins and minerals that are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants wipe out damaging free radicals in the body and help prevent major disease and illness like cancer and heart disease. Hazelnuts are a great source of vitamin E, which helps to fight aging and disease by reducing inflammation.
One serving of hazelnuts can also provide almost an entire day’s amount of manganese, which is not an antioxidant but is a huge contributor to enzymes that are. Hazelnuts also have the highest content of proanthocyanidins (PACs), a class of polyphenols that give foods like red wine and dark chocolate their “astringent mouth feel” compared to other nuts. (8)
Studies have shown how PACs have a significantly higher level of antioxidant activity compared to others like vitamin C and vitamin E, which only work in certain environments.
They also are shown to fight aging and help stave off disease. PACs are also found in cranberries and known for their ability to treat urinary tract infections, which is why it’s common to drink cranberry juice at the onset of a UTI. (9) To get the most antioxidants from hazelnuts, it’s best to consume them with the skins present. (10)
4. Boost the Brain
Hazelnuts should be considered a brain-boosting powerhouse. They’re full of elements that can improve brain and cognitive function and help prevent degenerative diseases later in life. Because of high levels of vitamin E, manganese, thiamine, folate, and fatty acids, a diet supplemented with hazelnuts can help keep your brain sharp and working at its best, making hazelnuts excellent brain foods.
Higher levels of vitamin E coincide with less cognitive decline as individuals age and can also have a major role in preventing and treating diseases of the mind like Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. Manganese has been proven to play a major role in the brain activity connected to cognitive function as well. (11)
Thiamine is commonly referred to as the “nerve vitamin” and plays a role in nerve function throughout the body, which plays a key role in cognitive function. It’s also why thiamine deficiency can be damaging to the brain. (12) The high levels of fatty-acids and protein help the nervous system and also help to combat depression.
In a recent study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, hazelnuts were tested for their neuroprotective qualities. When provided as a dietary supplement, hazelnuts were able to improve healthy aging, improve memory and hinder anxiety. (13)
5. Help Prevent Cancer
Thanks to hazelnuts’ high number of antioxidants, they’re important cancer-fighting foods. Vitamin E is the most notable as a cancer-prevention supplement. Studies have shown vitamin E’s capabilities for decreasing risk for prostate, breast, colon and lung cancers, while also preventing the growth of mutations and tumors. (15) Vitamin E has also shown possibilities of aiding in multi-drug resistance reversal and cancer treatments.
In other studies, manganese complexes were found to exhibit potential anti tumor activity. For example, research conducted by the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Jiangsu University in China and published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry found that manganese complex could be a “potential antitumor complex to target the mitochondria.” (16)
There’s also growing evidence that thiamine may have anticancer properties, but more research is needed to confirm this belief.
6. Combat Obesity
Hazelnuts are great stimulants for healthy metabolism in the body. Individuals who consume high amounts of tree nuts show higher levels of weight loss due to a boost in metabolism. (17) Thiamine plays a major part in maintaining a healthy metabolism. It helps convert carbs into glucose, which is the source of energy that the body uses to operate. Thiamine also has a hand in producing new red blood cells, which are optimum in maintaining energy.
Evidence also suggests that manganese may be able to reduce weight in obese or overweight individuals, presumably because of its ability to improve digestive enzymes.
The protein, fiber and high fat composition of hazelnuts provide a heavier sensation of fullness, which prevents overeating and keeps you satisfied for longer. As we already discovered, hazelnuts are great sources of “good” fats, which places them in a category of healthy snacks and meal ingredients that can combat obesity. (18)
7. Contribute to Healthy Skin and Hair
The robust amount of vitamin E in hazelnuts can contribute to maintaining healthy skin and hair by improving moisture and elasticity. Vitamin E’s antioxidant capabilities can help prevent damage from UV rays or cigarette smoke, along with other things that can result in skin cancer or premature aging.
It also helps improve circulation and reduce inflammation. Vitamin E is has been shown to help treat scars, acne and wrinkles as well, thanks to its ability to regenerate skin cells.
Although hazelnuts contain fats and have a higher calorie count than other healthy snacks, a reasonable serving size contains a number of vital nutrients that you can eat without fear of gaining weight.
One ounce (28 grams) of hazelnuts contain about: (19)
- 176 calories
- 4.7 grams carbohydrates
- 4.2 grams protein
- 17 grams fat
- 2.7 grams fiber
- 1.7 milligrams manganese (86 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram copper (24 percent DV)
- 4.2 milligrams vitamin E (21 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram thiamine (12 percent DV)
- 45.6 milligrams magnesium (11 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (8 percent DV)
- 31.6 micrograms folate (8 percent DV)
- 81.2 milligrams phosphorus (8 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams iron (7 percent DV)
- 4 micrograms vitamin K (5 percent DV)
- 190 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)
Hazelnuts also contain amounts of vitamin C, niacin and calcium.
Hazelnuts vs. Almonds
How do hazelnuts stack up with almonds nutrition, another popular and healthy type of nut? For starters, they both have high levels of vitamin E, and they’re both heart-healthy snack options that can reduce the risk for many major illnesses and diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Hazelnuts and almonds also are both great sources of many important vitamins and minerals, as well as protein and fiber, but there are a few differences as well. For instance:
- Can help treat and prevent many degenerative illnesses of the mind like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Highest amounts of PACs (important polyphenols with high levels of antioxidant capabilities) among nut varieties
- Regular almond consumption can help generate helpful gut bacteria to promote optimum digestive health
- Almonds can alkalize the digestive tract and can help nutrient absorption
- The hazelnut is Oregon’s official state nut.
- Hazelnut trees can produce nuts as long as 80 years.
- Farmers in the Midwest U.S. are working on developing cultivars of hazelnuts to further help the species fight disease and adjust to multiple climates.
- Hazelnut trees are very environmentally friendly, as they grow well among farming operations and can help stabilize sensitive soils.
Purchasing and Preparing
When choosing raw hazelnuts, the best variety look plump and crisp, full and heavy. For optimum antioxidant benefits, they’re best purchased with the skin remaining. When you inspect the shelled nuts for purchasing, make sure there are no holes or cracks.
If you’re purchasing without the shell, try to find varieties with the skin tight and intact. You can also purchase hazelnuts roasted, chopped or ground. If buying the roasted variety, it’s important to note they contain less phytonutrients. (20)
Fresh hazelnuts are indeed perishable. It’s important to store them correctly. It’s best to eat fresh hazelnuts as soon as possible. If you must store them, keep them at room temperature and away from heat and humidity. If shelled, they can also be kept in the refrigerator for up to four months. Unshelled hazelnuts have a shorter shelf life and can be stored in a cool, dry environment for up to one month. (21)
Other hazelnut products include items like hazelnut butter, which is similar to peanut butter, but is made from roasted hazelnuts. Hazelnut meal and flour are like other nut flours and are made from what’s left after the nut is pressed for oil. The meal and flour are commonly used in baking or cooking.
Hazelnut oil is currently being promoted as another healthy alternative cooking oil. The oil provides a great flavor and comes in Italian and American hazelnut varieties. Hazelnut paste is a sweetened mix of sugar and ground hazelnuts. It can be used to make marzipan, icings and other ingredients for baking.
If you want to grind your hazelnuts at home, you can use a food processor to do so. It’s best to add a bit of flour to the mixture before processing.
You can add hazelnuts to salads and vegetables or mixed into cheese and toppings. You can use them chopped as a coating for meats and fishes. Studies have also shown that using nuts, like hazelnuts, in bread recipes is an effective way to improve nut consumption in diets. (22)
Here are a few hazelnut recipes to try:
Allergy and Risks
Hazelnut allergies can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening reactions. If you’re unsure whether you’re allergic, take precautions with adding them to your diet.
People who have allergies to other tree nuts like Brazil nuts, macadamia and others are more inclined to be allergic to hazelnuts.
- If you’re looking for a healthy snack or delicious added ingredient, hazelnuts are a great option.
- While they do contain a good amount of fat, those fats are mostly healthy fats that actually can help promote weight loss instead of causing weight gain.
- In addition, as high-antioxidant foods, they have been shown to promote heart health, help manage diabetes, boost the brain, help prevent cancer, combat obesity, and contribute to healthy skin and hair.