Eat nuts for better body composition and optimal health. A new review in the journal Nutrition shows that people who eat nuts regularly are less likely to be overweight, and they have less chance of gaining fat over time.
There are many misperceptions about nuts and the confusion about the fat content in nuts appears to be similar to the many of the myths that plague the fitness industry—people don’t get it, even when they are told repeatedly how to lose weight and be healthier. Let’s review what the evidence reveals about nuts.
Nuts are packed with all kinds of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, protein, and fat. They are energy dense with between 45 and 75 percent of their calories coming from fat. Despite misperceptions that eating nuts will make you fat (one survey of North Carolinians found that more than one-third thought eating nuts would produce weight gain), research shows the opposite. When people add nuts to their diets but don’t decrease their total calorie intake, they generally don’t gain weight. Not only that, studies show an inverse relationship between nut intake and body fat percentage, and in multi-year surveys, people who ate more nuts had less chance of gaining weight or developing type 2 diabetes.
For example, one study found that participants who ate a moderate-fat diet that included nuts five times a week lost more weight than those who ate a similar low-fat diet that didn’t include nuts. Another common trend seen with nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and pistachios, is that when each one is added to a diet in addition to normal caloric consumption, weight gain is considerably less than was predicted by the calories provided. For example, a group had their diets supplemented with 500 calories a day extra from nuts and they only gained 1 kg rather than the predicted 3.6 kg over eight weeks.
Researchers suggest eating nuts can keep you lean because the high protein and unsaturated fat content can increase energy expenditure and diet-induced thermogenesis, which is the calories you burn processing the food you eat. In addition, they are high in fiber, promote insulin sensitivity, and decrease hunger ratings. There is also abundant evidence that nuts can lower cholesterol, increase antioxidant status, decrease blood pressure, and improve glucose tolerance in diabetics.
A few more important things you should know about nuts include the following:
• In four large-scale studies that included the Nurses’ and the Physicians’ Health studies, frequent nut consumption was associated with a decreased risk of heart attack. Eating a 1-ounce serving of nuts five times per week resulted in a 50 percent lower risk of heart disease than eating the same serving only once a week.
• Frequent nut intake can lower your risk of all-cause mortality. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, eating two or more servings of nuts decreased death risk by 12 percent compared with eating less than one serving a month.
• Pistachios are lowest in fat and macadamia nuts are highest. Almonds, pecans, peanuts, Brazil nuts, and walnuts fall in the middle in terms of fat content. All of these mentioned nuts as well as hazelnuts, cashews, and pine nuts have been shown to improve health and support body composition.
• Avoid nuts from China, especially pistachios because they are commonly bleached, which decreases the antioxidant levels and leaves dangerous residue on the nuts.
• Other nut treatments that you want to avoid include hot water blanching, high temperature roasting, and especially irradiation.
• Walnuts may be the healthiest nuts because they are typically eaten raw with the skin on, which increases their antioxidant content. Raw nuts contain more antioxidants and nutrients, and fresh nuts are more nutritious, so choose raw nuts and eat them regularly. Avoid storing nuts for long periods because they lose nutrients and can go rancid.
Vadivel, V., Kunyanga, C., et al. Health Benefits of Nut Consumption with Special Reference to Body Weight Control. Nutrition. 2012. 28, 1089-1097.