One ounce of raw almonds clocks in at 162 calories and 14 grams of fat. A snack pack of Oreo Thin Crisps contains 100 calories and a scant 2 grams of fat. Which is the better choice?
Calories are Not Created Equal
The fixation solely on calories and grams of fat is an outdated way of thinking, and researchers are proving that it is the quality of the calorie, not the quantity, that plays a larger role in shaping health and weight loss.
Take a look at these three studies:
Study 1: Glycemic Load and the Effect on Weight Loss
A study led by Harvard Medical School and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has shown that calories are not created equally.
This study compared the effects of different diets on weight loss. They determined that even when calories were kept the same, more weight was lost on a low-glycemic diet than on other types of diets, including low fat.
A low-glycemic diet is one in which everything consumed has a low glycemic load, which means it will not substantially raise your blood sugar after eating it.
The glycemic load of a foods are ranked as low (0-10), medium (10-20), and high (20+), with high-glycemic foods causing the largest spike in blood sugar.
Almonds have a glycemic load of 0, meaning they don’t affect blood sugar at all, and they fit in with a low glycemic diet.
The Oreos, on the other hand, have a medium glycemic load of 10.8, thanks to their copious amounts of sugar (eight grams, or 1/3 of the recommended daily maximum).
This means that one little snack pack will raise your blood glucose substantially more than an ounce of almonds. This spike is typically followed by a rapid decline, and many researchers cite this blood sugar roller coaster as a contributor to weight gain.
Study 2: Fiber and Disappearing Calories
Another study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, has found that fiber may be the reason people who consistently eat almonds weigh less.
During the study, participants (most of whom were overweight) added two ounces of almonds daily. Even though they consumed more calories than usual, they did not gain any weight.
A one-ounce serving of almonds provides 14% of the recommended daily value of fiber, so these participants got double that. The researchers noted that people who snack on almonds tended to decrease their intake of other foods, particularly complex carbs. They believe this is due to the high fiber content, which contributes to feelings of satiety.
They also believe the high fiber content may prevent some of the fat from being digested and absorbed, which means the almonds may provide fewer calories than expected.
Meanwhile, back to our comparison, the snack pack only contains 1% of the recommended daily value of fiber, and as is the case with complex carbs, will likely leave you hungry and searching for more.
Study 3: Almonds vs. Complex Carbs
A 2009 study done specifically on almonds and complex carbohydrates offers more insights: The study followed 65 patients for six months. Half the group consumed high protein shakes with three ounces of almonds, and the other, high-protein shakes with the equivalent calories of complex carbs, like crackers.
Researchers monitored their cholesterol and weight throughout.
The result? Although both patient groups improved their cholesterol profiles, the almond group unexpectedly lost significantly more weight than the complex carbohydrate group.
Nuts shouldn't make you fat, and if anything they should help with weight loss. In the case of Almonds vs. Oreos, the almonds will always win.
Always choose raw and unsalted varieties, as roasting and flavorings degrade the nutrition and can turn this healthy food into an unhealthy one.
A serving size is one ounce (a healthy handful), although the last two studies mentioned above used servings sizes of two and three ounces daily, without weight gain.
Remember, when trying to lose weight, it is not necessarily the number of calories that make the difference, but rather where those calories are coming from.