Nuts are good for weight loss

Does eating nuts make you fat?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary

Eating nuts in moderation will not make you gain weight. Adding a right amount of nuts can even reduce your weight slightly. For a quick answer click here.

Explanation

People generally think that because nuts are very high in energy nutrients, especially fat, they must be adding to weight gain. To understand why there is such a widespread concern, here are some examples of the  energy producing nutrients per 100 grams of some nuts and seeds:

  • Almonds have 575 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 21 grams of proteins and 49 grams of fat
  • Cashews have 553 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of protein and 43 grams of fat
  • Walnuts have 653 calories, 13.6 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of proteins and 65 grams of fat

Why are nuts good for weight loss?

Long term studies have shown that frequent nut consumption actually reduces the risk of weight gain and is associated with a slight weight loss. It was shown that people who eat small servings (1oz – 28g) 2-5 times per week do not weigh more than those who don’t consume  nuts or eat them less than once per week. (1)Bes-Rastrollo M, Sabaté J, Gómez-Gracia E, Alonso A, Martínez JA, Martínez-González MA. Nut consumption and weight gain in a Mediterranean cohort: The SUN study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jan;15(1):107-16. Available here. (2)Bes-Rastrollo M, Wedick NM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Li TY, Sampson L, Hu FB. Prospective study of nut consumption, long-term weight change, and obesity risk in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1913-9. Available here. (3)Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2392-404. Available here. (4)O’Neil CE, Keast DR, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Nut consumption is associated with decreased health risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults: NHANES 1999-2004. J Am Coll Nutr. 2011 Dec;30(6):502-10. Available here.

The following are some reasons why nut consumption is so valuable in weight control:

  • People who eat nuts excrete more fat and, therefore, more energy.
    Whole nuts are not digested and absorbed properly due to their fiber content. Up to 15% of the energy from nuts is not absorbed. (5)Mattes RD. The energetics of nut consumption. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:337-9. Available here. (6)Ellis PR, Kendall CW, Ren Y, Parker C, Pacy JF, Waldron KW, Jenkins DJ. Role of cell walls in the bioaccessibility of lipids in almond seeds. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Sep;80(3):604-13. Available here. (7)Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.This means that by eating nuts, the energy your body absorbs is less than what is on the nutrition label or other nutritional information data sources, by the amount of fat that is trapped inside the fibers (up to 15%).
  • The high fat content of nuts increases hormones such as cholecystokinin and glucagon like peptide-1 (GLP-1) which increase satiety. (8)Cassady BA, Hollis JH, Fulford AD, Considine RV, Mattes RD. Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):794-800. Available here. (9)Hughes GM, Boyland EJ, Williams NJ, Mennen L, Scott C, Kirkham TC, Harrold JA, Keizer HG, Halford JC. The effect of Korean pine nut oil (PinnoThin) on food intake, feeding behaviour and appetite: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Lipids Health Dis. 2008 Feb 28;7:6. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-7-6. Available here. (10)Hughes GM, Boyland EJ, Williams NJ, Mennen L, Scott C, Kirkham TC, Harrold JA, Keizer HG, Halford JC. The effect of Korean pine nut oil on in vitro CCK release, on appetite sensations and on gut hormones in post-menopausal overweight women. Lipids Health Dis. 2008; 7: 6. Available here.
  • Nuts improve carbohydrate metabolism. (11)Metabolism. 2008 Jul;57(7):882-7. Effect of almonds on insulin secretion and insulin resistance in nondiabetic hyperlipidemic subjects: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Available here. (12)Tan SY, Mattes RD. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 67, 1205–1214. Available here. (13)Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
  • Eating nuts frequently leads to dietary compensation. By eating nuts, we eat less of other foods. Therefore, the energy provided from nuts is offset by the reduction in the intake of other foods. (14)Bes-Rastrollo M, Wedick NM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Li TY, Sampson L, Hu FB. Prospective study of nut consumption, long-term weight change, and obesity risk in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1913-9. Available here. (15)Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
  • Due to their high protein and fat content, nuts may increase the energy expenditure when resting, resulting in less fat accumulation in the body.
    In other words, protein makes you burn more fat when you are at rest.However, more studies are needed. (16)Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
  • Eating nuts may improve insulin sensitivity, resulting in an increased metabolism of fat. (17)Casas-Agustench P, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J. Nuts, inflammation and insulin resistance. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(1):124-30. Available here. (18)Rajaram S, Sabate J. Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance. Available here.

 

Another issue with this myth is the misconception that a diet rich in fatty foods is assumed to cause weight gain by accumulating dietary fat as body fat. Studies show, however, that a diet rich in fat and low in carbohydrates shows the best results in weight loss. (19)Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, Kim S, Stafford RS, Balise RR, Kraemer HC, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal WomenThe A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2007;297(9):969-977. Available here.

Note: There are two scenarios where it is possible to gain weight by eating nuts: by combining it with diets high in carbohydrates or with diets high in both carbohydrates and fat.

In summary: high carbohydrate content in foods, from refined sugars and starchy products, is the major cause of insulin resistance which, in turn, is the primary cause of storing fat in the fat cells. Therefore, adding fatty foods to these diets means adding calorie intake and, therefore, increasing the fat storage.

Conclusion

Back to top

Everything should be eaten in moderation. Even healthy foods, such as nuts, may turn unhealthy if eaten in large quantities or if there isn’t enough variety in your diet.

Nuts are energy dense foods and need to be eaten in moderation. For better health, add a handful of nuts to your balanced, low carbohydrate diet each day. You should also try to vary them since they contain different nutrients.

As the studies above show, an ounce per day will not make you gain weight. You might even see some weight reduction.

References   [ + ]

1. Bes-Rastrollo M, Sabaté J, Gómez-Gracia E, Alonso A, Martínez JA, Martínez-González MA. Nut consumption and weight gain in a Mediterranean cohort: The SUN study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jan;15(1):107-16. Available here.
2. Bes-Rastrollo M, Wedick NM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Li TY, Sampson L, Hu FB. Prospective study of nut consumption, long-term weight change, and obesity risk in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1913-9. Available here.
3. Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2392-404. Available here.
4. O’Neil CE, Keast DR, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Nut consumption is associated with decreased health risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults: NHANES 1999-2004. J Am Coll Nutr. 2011 Dec;30(6):502-10. Available here.
5. Mattes RD. The energetics of nut consumption. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:337-9. Available here.
6. Ellis PR, Kendall CW, Ren Y, Parker C, Pacy JF, Waldron KW, Jenkins DJ. Role of cell walls in the bioaccessibility of lipids in almond seeds. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Sep;80(3):604-13. Available here.
7. Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
8. Cassady BA, Hollis JH, Fulford AD, Considine RV, Mattes RD. Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):794-800. Available here.
9. Hughes GM, Boyland EJ, Williams NJ, Mennen L, Scott C, Kirkham TC, Harrold JA, Keizer HG, Halford JC. The effect of Korean pine nut oil (PinnoThin) on food intake, feeding behaviour and appetite: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Lipids Health Dis. 2008 Feb 28;7:6. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-7-6. Available here.
10. Hughes GM, Boyland EJ, Williams NJ, Mennen L, Scott C, Kirkham TC, Harrold JA, Keizer HG, Halford JC. The effect of Korean pine nut oil on in vitro CCK release, on appetite sensations and on gut hormones in post-menopausal overweight women. Lipids Health Dis. 2008; 7: 6. Available here.
11. Metabolism. 2008 Jul;57(7):882-7. Effect of almonds on insulin secretion and insulin resistance in nondiabetic hyperlipidemic subjects: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Available here.
12. Tan SY, Mattes RD. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 67, 1205–1214. Available here.
13. Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
14. Bes-Rastrollo M, Wedick NM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Li TY, Sampson L, Hu FB. Prospective study of nut consumption, long-term weight change, and obesity risk in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1913-9. Available here.
15. Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
16. Sabate J. Nut consumption and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr September 2003. Available here.
17. Casas-Agustench P, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J. Nuts, inflammation and insulin resistance. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(1):124-30. Available here.
18. Rajaram S, Sabate J. Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance. Available here.
19. Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, Kim S, Stafford RS, Balise RR, Kraemer HC, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal WomenThe A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2007;297(9):969-977. Available here.