The rich, buttery nut is actually packed with fat

Jessica Migala
February 13, 2020
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pili nuts shot overhead in a bowl on wooden background
Credit: Getty Images / Westend61

For years, you've been snacking on almonds, and maybe included some cashews or pistachios in there from time-to-time. Now, you may have noticed a newcomer in the grocery store: pili nuts. Some companies suggest that they're a healthier nut compared to the rest. So, should you switch up your snack? (Learn more about our favorite healthy nuts to eat.)

According to the company Pili Hunters (which you may recognize from their appearance on Shark Tank), a pili—"peel-y"—nut is a tropical nut that grows on the pili tree in the rain forests in Southeast Asia. They describe its buttery flavor as part macadamia nut, part cashew.

Pili nut nutrition

The USDA lists an ounce of pili nuts as containing 204 calories, 23 grams of fat (9 grams saturated fat), and one gram of carbs. That said, some companies suggest a bigger serving size—Pili Hunters says this is one-third of a cup (just under two ounces)—and with these nuts, portion size really matters. Eat one-third of a cup of pili nuts and that's 370 calories, 41 grams of fat (16 grams saturated), and two grams of carbs. A standard serving of nuts is one ounce though.

"I would hope that the high fat content would provide satiety because the small portion size packs [a lot of] calories," says Kristine Duncan, MS, RDN, CDE of Veg Girl RD in Bellingham, Washington. Pili nuts are often billed toward followers of the keto diet, since they are extremely rich in fat and low in carbs.

If you're not following the keto diet, then you'll have to put pili nuts in context. For reference, two ounces of almonds have 328 calories, 28 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. The USDA recommends limiting saturated fat to 10% of your calories per day (16 grams of saturated fat is 144 calories, or about 7% of your calories on a 2,000-calorie diet). Too much, they note, can raise cholesterol levels, particularly "bad" LDL, in turn, increasing risk of heart disease. For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, that's 200 calories from saturated fat, which equals 20 grams, tops. Again, that's before eating other foods with saturated fat—and even traditionally healthy foods have small amounts of sat fat, like dairy (including reduced fat), meat (including lean meats like chicken breast), and oils (like olive).

In regards to the sat fat content, some people may give pili nuts a free pass because they're a plant-based source of sat fat (like coconut oil), as opposed to saturated fat found in animal products like meat or dairy. However, Duncan thinks that this overarching belief is premature. "This idea might be true, but we can't say for sure yet. [Pili nuts] might end up being a healthy nut with an interesting fat profile, but I'm not ready to make any strong recommendations or claims one way or the other," she says.

One plus about their fat content is that pili nuts are high in heart-healthy and waistline-friendly monounsaturated fatty acids, putting them in a similar category as avocado and olive oil, says Duncan. (So no, it's not all about the saturated fat.)

Beyond fat, pili nuts do have other nutrients to boast about. Namely, a one-ounce serving will be an excellent source of minerals magnesium, which is involved in blood sugar and glucose function, and bone-friendly manganese, as well as a good source of nutrients that play a role in energy metabolism and production, like the B vitamin thiamin and copper. There's also smaller amounts of potassium, folate, and zinc.

That said, there's nothing that would indicate that pili nuts are better than other nuts. "There isn't substantial evidence that would make me think these are superior with regard to health benefits," says Duncan.

While pili nuts are touted as keto, paleo and vegan—all nuts fit in those special diets. The exception is peanuts, which are technically a legume, and not allowed on a paleo diet.

Where you can buy pili nuts

bags of Pili Nuts
Credit: Amazon

You'll find these in some grocery stores in the nut section, and you can also buy them online, too. Some of these brands also sell pili nut butter, if you'd rather spread it on toast or whirl it in a bowl of oatmeal.

Bottom line

These nuts are expensive and aren't necessarily better for you than other nuts. Because of the higher saturated fat and calorie content, Duncan recommends eating these sparingly. "If you like the taste, pili nuts can be part of a rotating selection of snacks," she says. Just make sure to balance out your intake. For instance, on a day when you have pili nuts in the morning as a snack, have a lower-fat snack in the afternoon, like veggies and hummus. Overall, "these nuts are a whole food, which would make them a better choice than chips or candy or other processed foods," she says.