By Dr. Mercola
Many people needlessly shun raw nuts from their diet, believing their fat content contributes to weight gain. A new study once again puts this myth to rest, showing instead that eating nuts doesn’t lead to weight gain and may actually help you to slim down.
Eating Nuts May Help You Achieve Your Ideal Weight
In the new review of 31 trials, those whose diets included extra nuts or nuts substituted for other foods lost about 1.4 extra pounds and half an inch from their waists.1
The weight loss, though small, suggests that adding healthful amounts of nuts to your diet can help you to maintain your ideal weight over time. And at the very least, researchers concluded:
“Compared with control diets, diets enriched with nuts did not increase body weight, body mass index [BMI], or waist circumference in controlled clinical trials.”
In fact, if you're watching your weight, a small handful of nuts like almonds is a better snack choice than a snack high in complex carbohydrates, such as a bran muffin. Past research also bears this out, showing that eating nuts is beneficial for your weight.
In one study comparing those who ate a low-calorie diet that included either almonds or complex carbs, the almond group had a:2
- 62 percent greater reduction in their weight/BMI
- 50 percent greater reduction in waist circumference
- 56 percent greater reduction in body fat
A separate study in the journal Obesity also found that eating nuts two or more times per week was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.3
Nuts Help Your Heart, Lower Your Risk of Diabetes
As a natural, whole food, nuts are excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can boost your health in numerous ways above and beyond weight control.
For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that those who ate nuts gained numerous benefits compared to non-nut eaters, including:4
- Decreased body mass index and waist circumference
- Lower systolic blood pressure
- Lower weight
- Less likelihood of having two risk factors for metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure and low HDL (good) cholesterol (for nut consumers)
- Less likelihood of having four risk factors for metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose and a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome (for tree nut consumers)
"Nut/tree nut consumption was associated with a decreased prevalence of selected risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and MetS [metabolic syndrome]."
If you’re interested in protecting your heart health, snacking on nuts is a far better option than snacking on whole grains, which are often touted as a heart-healthy choice. A study in the journal Circulation found people with abnormally high levels of lipids, such as cholesterol, in their blood, were able to significantly reduce their risk factors for coronary heart disease by snacking on whole almonds while those who snacked on whole-wheat muffins got no such benefit.5
One reason why nuts are so beneficial is that many, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts, contain the amino acid l-arginine, which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with heart disease, or those who have increased risk for heart disease due to multiple cardiac risk factors.
Are Certain Nuts Better Than Others?
With the exception of peanuts (which are technically a legume, heavily pesticide-laden and often contaminated with the carcinogenic mold aflatoxin), most nut varieties have something to offer your health. Generally speaking, each type of nut will offer a slightly different mix of nutrients for your health. For instance:
- Raw macadamia nuts are a powerhouse of a nut, containing a wide variety of critical nutrients including high amounts of vitamin B1, magnesium, manganese and healthful monounsaturated fat, just to name a few. I eat about two pounds of macadamia nuts a week not only because I enjoy them, but also because they are relatively low in carbs and protein and high in olieic acid, omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid, which is the same fatty acid found in olive oil.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols and antioxidants that are so powerful at free-radical scavenging that researchers called them "remarkable."6 Plus, walnuts may help reduce not only the risk of prostate cancer, but breast cancer as well. They’ve also been shown to reverse brain aging in rats and boost heart health in people with diabetes.
- Almonds: One of the healthiest aspects of almonds appears to be their skins, as they are rich in antioxidants including phenols, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are typically associated with vegetables and fruits. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry even revealed that a one-ounce serving of almonds has a similar amount of total polyphenols as a cup of steamed broccoli or green tea.7
- Pecans: Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, and research has shown they may help lower LDL cholesterol and promote healthy arteries. One of my favorite treats is candied pecans in a salad at a restaurant. I know they have sugar but a few grams or less a day is harmless.
- Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are an excellent source of organic selenium, a powerful antioxidant-boosting mineral that may help prevent cancer.
Soaking Nuts Helps Break Down Phytic Acid
Phytic acid, which is found in the coatings of nuts, is an "anti-nutrient" responsible for leeching vital nutrients from your body. Phytic acid also blocks the uptake of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. The presence of phytic acid is one reason why I recommend avoiding non-fermented soy… and it’s also the reason why I strongly recommend soaking nuts for at least eight to 12 hours before eating them. This will help to get rid of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which can interfere with the function of your own digestive and metabolic enzymes, in the nuts. To make them more palatable you can you a dehydrator (I like the Excalibur) to improve the texture.
Enzyme inhibitors in nuts (and seeds) help protect the nut as it grows, helping to decrease enzyme activity and prevent premature sprouting. When nuts are soaked, the germination process begins, allowing the enzyme inhibitors to be deactivated and increasing the nutrition of the nut significantly, as well as making them much easier to digest. Macadamia nuts (and other white nuts) have only negligible amounts of enzyme inhibitors, so soaking is not as necessary.
Choose Raw Organic Nuts, Ideally
To increase the positive impacts on your health, look for nuts that are organic and raw, not irradiated or pasteurized. Be aware that pasteurized almonds sold in North America can still be labeled "raw" even though they've been subjected to one of the following pasteurization methods:
- Oil roasting, dry roasting or blanching
- Steam processing
- Propylene Oxide (PPO) treatment (PPO is a highly toxic flammable chemical compound, once used as a racing fuel before it was prohibited for safety reasons)
There are generally no truly "raw" almonds sold in North America, so don't be misled. It is possible to purchase raw almonds in the US, but it has to be done very carefully from vendors selling small quantities that have a waiver from the pasteurization requirement. The key is to find a company with the waiver that is not pasteurizing them.
When consumed with these guidelines in mind, raw, organic nuts are a convenient and enjoyable superfood to add to your diet. And this is precisely why they’re recommended as one of the best sources of healthy fats in my nutrition plan.