The Right Type of Nut
First of all, let’s clarify which ‘nuts’ we’re talking about. We’re interested in the unprocessed tree nuts listed below. Note that I’ve omitted peanuts due their inflammatory and aflatoxic potential, and chestnuts as they are nutritionally sparse in comparative terms. The values in brackets are based on a typical 30g serving and are intended only to compare different varieties; whilst having a rough idea of the calories you’re consuming is good, don’t get too anal calorie counting. Obviously, ‘healthy’ nuts do not include salted, chocolate covered, sugared, or in any other way processed, variations.
- Almonds (184cal, 16.8g fat)
- Brazil Nuts (205cal, 20g fat)
- Cashews (183cal, 15.3g fat)
- Hazelnuts (195cal, 19.2g fat)
- Macadamias (224cal, 23.3g fat)
- Pecans (207 calories, 21g fat)
- Pine Nuts (207cal, 21g fat)
- Pistachios (183cal, 15.3g fat)
- Walnuts (206cal, 21g fat)
Nuts & Weight Management
Whilst nuts are high in both calories and fat, they form a vital part of a weight management diet. Nuts should not be avoided or considered a ‘cheat’ food as many popular weight loss programmes may suggest. Four longitudinal studies (each with between 20,000 and 80,000 participants – see references for further details) have demonstrated that individuals who consume nuts on a regular basis weigh less than their non-nut eating counterparts. Of course whilst we cannot isolate whether nut consumption was the only factor to account for this difference, there is a clear trend for those consuming nuts five or more times a week to have a lower body mass index (BMI). Even in research where tree nuts have been added to individuals’ habitual diets, and therefore commonly increasing total calorie intake by over 1000 calories a week, no significant level of weight gain has been reported. Not all calories are created equal!
How Do Nuts Help?
Due of their high fat and protein content, nuts are shown to increase feelings of satiety and fullness; this should mean that you’ll end up eating less of other things. In a review of a wide range of nut studies, Mattes et al. (2007) supported this notion suggesting that around 70% of the energy provided by nuts is offset by a reduced calorie intake at subsequent meals or snacks. Furthermore, studies show that around 15% of calories are not actually absorbed by the gut and are directly passed from the body in the stool so you’re not actually absorbing all of them.
Given that nuts have a low glycemic index/load, they can play an important role in stabilising blood sugar levels and the subsequent secretion of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin levels are an important consideration in weight management as insulin acts as one of the most lipolytic (fat storing) hormones in the body. Consuming high glycemic foods results in a spike in blood sugar levels and causes the production of large amounts of insulin. Not only will this insulin spike promote lipolysis, but it can also lead to a significant drop in blood sugar levels an hour or two afterwards. This drop in blood sugar makes us feel hungry again and when we’re hungry we tend to make worse food choices in an attempt to satisfy our hunger. Low glycemic foods such as nuts must be the staples of any diet plan.
In the next part of this blog later this week we’ll go over some of the additional health benefits of nuts and also give you some ideas of different ways to incorporate nuts into your diet to keep it fresh and interesting. In the meantime remember that there’s more to food than just calories!
Fraser G.E. et al. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. The Adventist Health Study. Arch Intern Med 1992; 152(7):1416–24.
Hu F.B. et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. BMJ 1998; 317(7169): 1341–5.
Albert C.M. et al. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physicians’ Health Study. Arch Intern Med 2002; 162(12):1382–7.
Ellsworth J.L. L.H. Kushi and A.R. Folsom. Frequent nut intake and risk of death from coronary heart disease and all causes in postmenopausal women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2000; 11(6):372–7.
Mattes R.D. Kris-Etherton P.M. and Foster G.D. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J. Nutr. 2008; 138:1741S–1745S.