Several studies have found that people who regularly eat nuts actually tend to gain less weight throughout time than people who avoid nuts.
Eating nuts on a regular basis is a good habit to form. Nuts provide key nutrients, good fats, antioxidants, protein and fiber, all of which support heart health. The one drawback to nuts is their calories. Because nuts are mainly fat (albeit good fat), they pack a lot of calories. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid nuts if you are watching your weight. Several studies have found that people who regularly eat nuts actually tend to gain less weight throughout time than people who avoid nuts. How is this possible?
The following reasons might explain.
1. We don’t absorb all the fat in nuts. Because the fat is stored in the nut’s cell walls, it doesn’t easily break down during digestion. That means some of the fat — as little as five percent or as much as 30 percent — passes through our bodies.
2. Nuts increase the amount of calories that we burn. This benefit might have something to do with the ratio of protein to unsaturated fat in nuts.
3. Nuts help us feel full for longer. Besides fat, nuts have fiber and protein. Snacking on a few nuts makes it more likely that we won’t overeat at the next meal.
4. Nut eaters tend to have healthier lifestyles. Nuts are probably used as a replacement for less healthy snacks.
Eating nuts is linked to decreased inflammation, a lower risk of blood clots, lower cholesterol and improved artery health. Most nuts offer at least some of these benefits, with different varieties offering more or less. Keep in mind that serving sizes are small — just a handful, or about one and a half ounces. Nut butters are heart-healthy too, with a serving size of two tablespoons.
Here’s a look at some favorite nuts:
Peanuts. Although technically a legume, peanuts are considered a nut for most purposes. Compared to other nuts, they have the most protein, with seven grams per serving. They are also the best source of arginine, which helps dilate vessels and decrease blood pressure. Just 28 peanuts is a serving, providing 166 calories.
Almonds. With slightly less protein than peanuts, almonds are tops for fiber, with 3.5 grams in 23 nuts. This serving size also has 75 milligrams of calcium and 163 calories.
Adding almonds to one’s diet has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol.
Pistachios. Technically a seed, pistachios are the best nut for eye-health-boosting antioxidants like lutein. A serving of pistachios is 49 nuts, providing 160 calories.
Cashews. Cashews are low in fat, with 157 calories in a serving of 16. Cashews also are an excellent source of copper, which is good for skin and hair and helps with iron absorption.
Walnuts. With the highest fat content, walnuts provide 190 calories in a serving of 14 halves. But this same fat is also a reason to choose walnuts — they are the only nut providing a significant source of plant-based omega 3 fat, which helps decrease inflammation and is good for brain and heart health.
Hazelnuts. Although lower in protein than most nuts, hazelnuts are rich in B vitamins, especially folate, and some important antioxidants, including vitamin E. There are 178 calories in a serving of 21 hazelnuts.
Brazil nuts. Known for their selenium content, Brazil nuts provide more than 700 percent of the recommended daily allowance of this mineral in one serving of six nuts.
Selenium helps fight free radicals that can damage our cells. A six-nut serving has 186 calories.
Pecans. Pecans have the highest concentration of antioxidants, especially vitamin E, which protect against cell damage. A serving of 19 halves provides 196 calories.
Whether you eat nuts straight from the container, sprinkled on food or in nut butters, nuts are easy to grab on the go. Look for raw or toasted plain nuts for the healthiest option. Be wary of added sugar in nut butters. Nut oils provide some of the same benefits as nuts, so consider trying some of these as well. Aim for five servings or more of nuts per week, but remember that the serving sizes are small.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.