Macadamia nuts are some of the tastiest nuts on the planet. But with their high fat content and hefty calorie count, many people shy away from this exotic tropical nut. Well, we’re here to tell you that macadamia nuts are some of the healthiest nuts around, and as long as you don’t overdo it, you can still get all the benefits of these rich and flavorful nuts without any of the weight gain. In fact, you might even find you lose a little weight. So come with us as we explore the wonders of the macadamia nut and uncover why they have more going on than you may have thought.
A Short History of Macadamia Nuts
You may associate macadamia nuts with the Hawaiian tropics, but they’re actually native to Australia. There are also four different species of macadamia trees on which the nuts grow, but only three of them—Macadamia integrifolia, Macadamia tetraphylla, and, less frequently, Macadamia ternifolia—are used for commercial purposes.
Unfortunately, the fourth species, Macadamia jansenii, whose nuts are poisonous due to high levels of cyanogenic glycosides—substances that can produce toxic cyanide—is highly endangered.
While macadamia nuts were first grown commercially in their native Australia in the 19th century, Hawaii surpassed Australia as the major producer in the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Australia finally surpassed the United States as the major producer of macadamia nuts, but they held this title for only 15 years before South Africa took the mantle.
And now China is getting in on the action and is expected to produce half the world’s supply by 2022. But China’s emergence as a potential leader in macadamia nut production could mean that prices of the world’s most expensive nut may eventually decrease.
Why are macadamia nuts so expensive, you ask?
The main reason is that it takes 7 to 10 years for trees to begin producing nuts, but they’re also difficult to grow, and their range is limited to areas with mild weather and plenty of rainfall, similar to coffee. What’s more, they have some of the toughest shells on earth, so getting the nuts ready for market is quite labor-intensive.
Macadamia Nuts: Nutrition Facts
Macadamia nuts are known for their rich, buttery taste. Some might even say they’re the most indulgent of nuts—and we’re not just talking about the price. But you may not know that macadamia nuts are good for you too.
Not only do they contain essential nutrients like thiamine, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese, but they’re also packed with tocotrienols. These members of the vitamin E family have been found in studies to reduce inflammation; lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure; and even aid in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Macadamia nuts also contain powerful phytochemicals—the biologically active compounds in plants that help them grow and defend themselves against danger.
These phytonutrients possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties and have been shown in studies to offer an array of health benefits, from boosting immunity and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to preventing heart disease, cognitive decline, and cancer.
What’s more, even though the total fat content in macadamia nuts is high, the vast majority of that fat is made up of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids—the same type of healthy fat found in olive oil.
Benefits of Macadamia Nuts
You’ve probably gathered by now that macadamia nuts are more than just a tasty tropical treat. But let’s take a closer look at what the science has to say about some of the health benefits of macadamia nuts.
Promote Heart Health
As mentioned, macadamia nuts contain the same monounsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil. These healthy fats are known for their ability to lower cholesterol levels as well as the risk of heart disease.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition looking at the effects of macadamia nuts on diet backed this up when it compared the cholesterol levels of two groups—one given a macadamia nut–rich diet and the other a typical American diet. At the end of the study, researchers found that the group fed the diet high in macadamia nuts had a significant reduction in cholesterol levels when compared with the control group.
May Help Treat Diabetes
Studies have found that a number of different nuts can help prevent and treat diabetes. For example, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled dietary trials found that tree nuts, including macadamia nuts, reduced blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
And another study investigating the beneficial effects of nuts and dried fruits hypothesized that the macronutrients, micronutrients, and other bioactive compounds in foods like macadamia nuts may help explain their ability to protect against metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Phytochemicals help protect cells from harmful free radicals, which can build up in the body and cause oxidative stress—a known risk factor in the development of chronic degenerative disease.
According to a study in the journal Nutrition Research Reviews, tree nuts contain an array of phytochemicals. Moreover, a meta-analysis published in the journal BMC Medicine found that nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of all causes of mortality, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes.
Support Weight Loss
The healthy fats in macadamia nuts, including an unsaturated fatty acid called palmitoleic acid, have been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat metabolism. Eating macadamia nuts also contributes to dietary fiber intake, with can be an additional weight-loss aid.
A 2009 study that followed approximately 51,000 women over 8 years found that women who ate nuts two or more times a week had a lower risk of both weight gain and obesity than women who ate nuts rarely or never.
Enhance Brain Health
The vitamins, minerals, and fats—including oleic acid and omega-9 fatty acids like erucic acid—in macadamia nuts help support healthy brain function and optimal neurotransmitter levels.
A mouse study published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior found that erucic acid, in particular, helps improve memory and could be effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
May Fight Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of health problems, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. But studies are finding that various compounds in macadamia nuts may help stop inflammation before it starts.
Interestingly, a study in Pharmacognosy Magazine found that the anti-inflammatory components of a variety of Australian plants, including macadamia nuts, also had the ability to inhibit the growth of Proteus mirabilis—a type of bacteria that’s known to trigger rheumatoid arthritis.
Like other nuts, macadamia nuts also contain both omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. However, the ratio of omega-3 to 6 fatty acids is higher in macadamia nuts. This is a potentially important difference because a diet that’s heavily weighted in favor of omega-6 fatty acids contributes to inflammation.
Perk Up Your Diet with Macadamia Nuts
The rich, buttery goodness of macadamia nuts makes them the perfect addition to tons of recipes. Used whole, chopped, or ground into flour, they can be added to yummy white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, incorporated into pesto, or used as a flavorful crust for mahi-mahi.
You can also make your own macadamia nut butter or purchase macadamia nut oil to use in your favorite recipes. And because the buttery taste of the nuts comes through in the oil, it can even be used as a butter substitute in baked treats.
There’s no denying that macadamia nuts are a fatty nut, and with almost 1,000 calories per cup, they could seriously cut into your weight-loss plans if you let yourself get carried away. But the recommended serving size is actually about an ounce, or 10 to 12 macadamia nuts, which is only about 200 calories—an amount comparable to what’s seen in the average serving size of peanut butter.
So don’t shy away from these very special nuts. They may not be meant for grazing, but their taste can’t be beat, and they pack a healthy dose of plant nutrition too!