The high-fat content of calorie-dense nuts has been known to strike fear in the heart of many a dieter.
A recent study shows that increasing your nut consumption each day could be an effective way to prevent gradual weight gain that occurs as we age.
The study, published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, shows that swapping out half a daily serve of unhealthy foods for half a daily serve of nuts – about 14-15 grams – may prevent weight gain and reduce your risk of obesity.
"Increasing total nut intake by 0.5 servings/day was associated with less weight gain of 0.19 kg..."
The nutty low-down
A team of international researchers, led by Xiaoran Liu from Harvard University, analysed data on the weight, diet and physical activity in three groups of people: 51,529 male health professionals aged 40 to 75; 121,700 nurses aged 35 to 55; and 116,686 nurses, aged 24 to 44.
They monitored their health for over 20 years and asked participants to state their weight, average weekly exercise and consumption habits of walnuts, other tree nuts (like almonds, Brazil nuts and pistachios) peanuts and peanut butter every four years.
The study’s results showed that all the nuts analysed have weight gain prevention benefits. However, increasing walnut consumption by half a serve each day could lower the risk of obesity by 15 per cent.
The researchers also found that substituting processed meats, refined grains, or desserts, including chocolates, pastries, pies and doughnuts, for half a serving of nuts was associated with staving off weight gain of between 0.41 and 0.70 kg in any four year period.
“In our study, on average, participants gained 0.32 kg per year. Increasing total nut intake by 0.5 servings/day was associated with less weight gain of 0.19 kg, suggesting that incorporating nuts into the diet, even given their calorie content, is helpful in mitigating a portion of long-term gradual weight gain,” the study reads.
A consistently higher nut intake of at least half a serving a day was also linked with a 23 per cent lower risk of putting on five or more kilos over four years and of becoming obese over the same timeframe.
According to the study, substituting snacks such as chips (crisps) and desserts with any type of nut offers a realistic and attainable dietary modification for long-term weight management.
No associations were observed for increases in peanut butter intake.
“Substituting snacks such as chips (crisps) and desserts with any type of nut therefore offers a realistic and attainable dietary modification for long-term weight management.”
There's no need to fear nuts
Anika Rouf, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says although the study was observational and did not establish cause, the research highlights how important nuts in weight gain prevention.
“We don’t need to be scared of nuts fearing that eating them will make you gain weight,” Rouf tells SBS.
“Nuts are packed with a lot of fibre. That’s what helps to keep us full for longer. They are also a great source of protein, helping with satiety. They contain healthy fats that can assist in maintaining cholesterol levels.”
However, Rouf says, it is best to eat a variety of nuts in moderation in order to maximise their nutritional benefits.
“We need to keep in mind that nuts contain healthy fats but they still contain fats at the end of the day. So it’s best to have about a handful of them a day and don’t go overboard.”
How to eat your nuts
Rouf explains that nuts don’t have to be eaten raw or as a snack but can be incorporated into your daily meals.
“The type of nuts people eat around the world vary,” she says. “So we need to encourage people to eat the nut varieties common in their favourite cuisines and include a variety of nuts in their diet."
Rouf suggests home cooks make a traditional Italian pesto sauce using pine nuts or walnuts to boost their daily nut intake.
“Thai food is particularly peanut rich, as it is used for flavouring, thickening, and garnishing many dishes, such as pad Thai rice noodles. Peanuts (often referred to as groundnuts) are also commonly used in African dishes to make soups and stews and to make sauces for meat and rice dishes.
"In Indian cuisine, a lot of the creamy curry sauces (particularly in the restaurants) are often thickened with a cashew or almond paste. Menu items with the word ‘malai’ signal a creamy sauce.
"Walnuts and pine nuts are commonly used in Middle Eastern dishes and salads.”
The only caveat to using nuts as a way to prevent gradual weight gain is to ensure you don’t increase the quantity of nut-laden deserts consumed.
“If you’re having large quantities of a very sugary sweet like baklava, which contains nuts, it may not lead to weight loss."
Rouf suggests choosing a small portion of low-sugar dessert with nuts instead.
“Just be mindful of how much you are having and stick to smaller portions.”
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