Anyone who's ever dieted will know that nuts are high in calories – at over 50% fat, should they be a no-go when it comes to losing weight? With an explosion in nut snacking in the UK, the interest in nuts and their health benefits has never been more intense.
We thought it would be good to delve a bit more into the science and find out whether it's a 'yay' or 'nay' when it comes to nuts and weight loss.
Nuts are actually a highly nutritious food – they provide nutrient storage for the plants and trees that produce them, so inside each nut is a whole plethora of good things! Providing a range of important nutrients including protein, fibre, selenium, zinc, copper, vitamin B6, folate, iron, calcium...the list goes on – nuts can be an important source of nutrition in the diet.
Fat levels are high but it's mainly unsaturated fat (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) which has been shown to be beneficial when it comes to heart health. Unfortunately fat still comes in at 9 calories per gram, whether it's unsaturated or saturated, which means that nuts are calorie dense.
Over the past several years, nut sales in the UK have skyrocketed as our interest in them has increased. Shops have done a great job at sourcing and providing a wide variety of different nuts, meaning we have plenty of choice. Gone are the days when nuts were just for Christmas (remember the shelled nuts still hanging around in April?). Whether you like almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, macadamias...they're all available, all year round.
The principles of weight loss are to reduce the number of calories you're eating to mobilise some of the stores of calories from the body (i.e. fat stores) which over time will result in weight loss. Makes sense? So it figures that if a food is very calorie dense, it may not be the best option for someone trying to reduce calorie intake.
That's where science has thrown us a curve ball.
Would it surprise you to hear that research has shown that eating nuts – in particular almonds – can actually help with weight loss? The total number of calories in the nuts, doesn't match up with the weight gain you'd expect from eating them.
Seems strange, but here's the explanation from the researchers. It seems that if you eat whole nuts they're not digested as fully as other foods, so we actually get rid of parts of the nut which contains the fat...meaning we only actually absorb about ¾ of the total calories in a handful of nuts. But be aware – if you have finely chopped nuts or nut butter (such as peanut butter) this calorie saving won't happen!
The Almond Board of California recommend snacking on around 23 almonds a day (30g) as part of a healthy weight loss plan. Having a handful of nuts when you feel peckish can stop cravings for sugary snacks so it might be worth a try.
And eating nuts can offer a whole host of other benefits too. They are packed full of protein and fibre which helps to fill you up and hopefully stop you snacking on other less healthy snacks. Plus they contain many of the essential micronutrients we need every day.
So why not give it a go and see what happens – here in the Nutracheck office we have drawers full of nuts, and find them to be a delicious and nutritious snack! Remember to include them as part of an overall healthy balance though – we don't want you dropping your fruit and veg intake, or any of the other important food
For info! The Almond Board of California states that 23 almonds contains around 129 calories (whereas it was previously thought this amount provided around 160 calories)
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.