Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 120,000 adults aged 55 to 69 in the Netherlands, and, a decade later, who had died and how. It turned out that people who ate at least 10 grams of nuts a day were less likely to have died of cancer, diabetes, heart trouble and other common causes. A 2014 review of the research also drew the conclusion that eating nuts was a good idea to prevent common chronic diseases.
The health benefits of peanuts, however, have been unclear, which was too bad because they’re cheaper than nuts and many people eat mostly or only peanuts. Much health research is based on populations of relatively well-off white Westerners. But a study earlier this year reported fewer deaths among low-income nut-eaters in the American South, including whites and African Americans and folks who ate only peanuts. This study also found similar results among people in Shanghai.
Many dieters stay away from the nut bowl because they’re considered “fattening.” As long as you don’t binge, a growing body of research confirms that eating nuts doesn’t cause weight gain and could actually help you lose pounds. The nuts at a party are a better bet than the potato chips, for sure.
You don’t have to eat a lot of nuts to reap the benefits. Ten grams, the minimum portion in the Dutch study, is 8 almonds, or 6 cashews. That serving might be 60 calories — but much of them come from heart-healthy fats.
However, remember that the benefits came from eating that many nuts every day. The lesson is to find a way to put nuts into your routine. Add nuts to your salad. Carry around a bag of nuts you like to tide you over after a workout or the usual times you tend to snack. Put nuts in your morning cereal.
Almonds seem to be an especially good bet for dieters. In a study of 100 pre-menopausal women who completed a three-month diet program, a group that added 50 grams of almonds a day lost about 5 pounds more. In another study with both men and women on a liquid diet, researchers had half the group add 84 grams of almonds a day, while the other group ate the same amount of calories and protein from complex carbohydrates. At the end of six months, the almond-eaters had lost more weight and 30 percent of their fat, compared to 20 percent in the other group, and also cut more inches from their waists.
Nuts may bring these happy results because they tend to reduce appetite and may increase your metabolism. Should you eat butter pecan ice-cream instead of plain vanilla? Maybe, if you don’t eat much. Be aware, however, that having “cheat” foods or “cheat” days doesn’t tend to help dieters. We tend to eat more later, riding on that feeling of virtue. The real answer is not to think of a reasonable quantity of nuts — no more than a handful — as a “cheat.”
On occasion, you could even consider an African peanut stew for dinner. That’s right: Go a little nuts.
July 03, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA