Nuts: Impact on Weight and Health

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Health Impact
Epidemiologic studies have consistently shown links between eating nuts and a lower risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). An evaluation of NHANES data from 1999 to 2004 showed that nut consumption was associated with lower body mass, hypertension, and risk factors for metabolic syndrome.1 In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration allows the labels on nuts to include the claim that eating 1.5 ounces daily may reduce the risk for heart disease when also part of an overall diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. 2

Emerging research suggests that a regular almond intake may improve insulin sensitivity in people with pre-diabetes.3 Nuts have been linked through the Mediterranean diet to lower risk of certain types of cancer. A link has also been reported between frequent nut intake and less likelihood of gallstones. 4

Weight Impact
Nuts are high in calories. For example, 1.5 ounces of dry-roasted peanuts provides 249 calories and the same amount of almonds has 245 calories. However, research suggests that almonds have 20 percent fewer calories than originally calculated.5 Additionally, epidemiologic data and clinical trials have found that higher nut consumption is not associated with a greater likelihood of obesity or weight gain among adult women.6,7

While not a lot of clinical trials have been done in which nuts are specifically included in a weight-loss plan, the available data suggests that the inclusion of nuts may lead to a greater weight loss that is longer lasting among people with obesity when compared to a diet with the same number of calories that does not include nuts.8

Some studies suggest that nuts provide a high degree of eating satisfaction. The few trials contrasting weight loss between diets that include or exclude nuts indicate a greater adherence to the plan when nuts are included. Moreover, nuts are not fully digested which means that some of their calories are never absorbed into the body. There is also some evidence that regularly eating nuts is linked with greater resting energy expenditure. Taken together, these attributes offset some of the calories. 9

Given the current evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that nuts can make positive contributions to health, especially heart health. They may also provide benefits toward weight loss so long as they are included as a food choice within a calorie-reduced diet.

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1 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.

2 Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide.

3 Wien M, Bleich D, Raghuwanshi M et al. Almond consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in adults with prediabetes. J Am Coll Nutr. 2010 Jun;29(3):189-97.

4Sabaté J, Ang Y. Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1643S-1648S.

5 Novotny JA, Gebauer SK, Baer DJ. Discrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):296-301.

6 Bes-Rastrollo M, Wedick NM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA et al. Prospective study of nut consumption, long-term weight change, and obesity risk in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1913-9.

7 Wang X, Li Z, Liu Y, et al. Effects of pistachios on body weight in Chinese subjects with metabolic syndrome. Nutr J. 2012 Apr 3;11:20.

8 Rajaram S, Sabaté J. Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance. Br J Nutr. 2006 Nov;96 Suppl 2:S79-86.

9 Mattes RD, Kris-Etherton PM, Foster GD. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1741S-1745S.