The following is an "answer" I posted on another thread, but I'm reposting it as a question because a) No one's noticing it on the other thread ( "Help! Can’t stop picking on nuts / nut butters!" ) and b) it seems like a relatively new concept among paleohackers. Here it is:
I think we are craving nuts so strongly because they provide something vital that we don't get from other things. I say this because I notice that if I eat a moderate amount of nuts/seeds in a meal, along with some proteolytic fermented foods to aid in digestion, I feel quite well, and that the nuts have "hit the spot," a spot that I can't imagine any other food hitting.
Avocados were an okay replacement for a while, but after a while, it was clear that they weren't satisfying me as much as nuts did, nor providing as much energy--provided I don't eat so many nuts that it hits my digestive system like a brick.
What do nuts provide that other foods do not? Off the top of my head, all I can think of are magnesium and a particular amino acid profile that nourishes our bodies in a unique way, perhaps providing precursors to important neurotransmitters and hormones. If I find out anything about that I'll post a comment to this "answer." (The below points 1-4)
Yes, nuts can be addicting, but in my experience there are some ways to minimize that effect without forming an abstinence/binging relationship. I have found that adding raw, fermented foods to meals (especially with nuts) aids in both digestion and enhancing satiation signals. Also, eating them slowly helps.
Are nuts bad? I don't think so. Are they a food that some find difficult to form a productive relationship with? That's what I think. I know of many people with strong digestive systems that have no problems eating nuts normally and with moderation, not requiring any amount of discipline to stop themselves. It seems to me that it is those people with compromised digestive systems (a large percentage of us paleohackers, no?) that have trouble with nuts and nut cravings. Perhaps the key here is not to avoid such an ubiquitous food at the risk of slight yet perpetual malnourishment (which has been my experience), but to find ways of safely and productively incorporating this food by enhancing our approach and digestion of said food.
1.) Almonds are unusually high in glutamic acid (L-Glutamine), which is used by the body in greater amounts when it is under stress. Of course, we are familiar with L-glutamine as a supplement, and its ability to curb "carb cravings" as well as reduce stress. I will posit that although we may temporarily benefit from this supplementation, we would do better not confusing our body with out-of-the-blue doses of vitamins, but instead getting our L-glutamine from a natural source, along with all the other amino acids and vitamins that it's "supposed" to come with.
2.) The second most predominant amino acid in almonds is l-arginine. Wikipedia says that the plant foods highest in arginine are: wheat germ and flour, buckwheat, granola, oatmeal, peanuts, nuts (coconut, pecans, cashews, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pinenuts), seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower), chick peas, cooked soybeans, Phalaris canariensis (canaryseed or ALPISTE). I dunno about you guys, but this is essentially a list of the "non-paleo" foods that I crave the most. L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide and has been found to stimulate secretion of growth hormone.
3.) Stated before, I'm sure, but the calcium and magnesium (and I'm sure other vitamins and minerals) are going to have a nourishing effect on the nervous system, possibly in a way that supplementing with these separate components would not. What about the phytic acid, you say? All I have to say is that when I crave nuts, I crave roasted nuts over raw ones. (Roasting nuts breaks down much of the phytate.)
4.) High in MUFAs?