Eating Nuts Can Help You Manage Your Weight, New Study Finds

mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor By Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor

Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.

Image by mbg Creative / iStock

Some mornings I wake up and ask myself: Is there anything nuts can't do? They're the ultimate superfood, after all, with so many benefits to boast about. Then I sit in my bed and make a list of what they can't do (reverse climate change, tackle the plastic epidemic, go to the gym for me), but you know what's never on the cannot-do list? Weight loss! That's right—nuts can help with weight loss, and science can prove it.

A recent long-term observational study published in online health journal BMJ found that people who substituted unhealthy foods in their diets with half a serving of nuts (about half an ounce) were able to avoid yearly weight gain. For context, the average American gains a pound, or half a kilo, every year.

The study took place over 20 years and included nearly 290,000 people total across three different groups—one group of male health professionals aged 40 to 75 and two groups of nurses aged 24 to 55. Quite a spread, as they say. 

Researchers asked participants to provide frequent updates throughout the study—everything from participants' weight and nut consumption to their physical activity was tracked with the precision of an X-Acto Knife. (If you're curious about every single detail, you can see it all here.)

All in all, the researchers deduced that increasing nut consumption was associated with less long-term weight gain and a lower likelihood of becoming obese. Specifically, eating half a serving a day of nuts on a consistent basis yielded a 23% lower risk of putting on five or more kilos (11 or more pounds) in four years. (Sorry peanut butter pundits, there were no such results associated with increased PB intake.) 

Of all foods, though, nuts? They're not exactly the most obvious choice for weight loss food of the year, given their high (but healthy!) caloric content. Well, aside from satisfying our palate—is there any other food that can be salty, creamy, nutty, and crunchy?—the fat content of nuts is satiating, meaning it keeps us fuller than, say, a bag of pretzels. Nuts also contain fiber, another nutrient admired for its fulfilling-ness (biting my tongue so I don't say full-feeling-ness). 

In other words, it makes sense that swapping in half an ounce of nuts for junk food in your diet would slow or eliminate weight gain. Unhealthy foods tend to lack nutrients and can sometimes leave us feeling hungrier than we'd feel on a fast. Eating nuts keeps us fuller, which, in theory, leads to us eating less because we don't feel as hungry. Eating junk food, on the other hand, doesn't curb our appetite, and thus we're likely to eat more of it. Junk food also spikes our blood sugar, which can often cause us to eat more food overall. That said, we have to keep in mind that weight only comes off in a state of calorie deficit, so eating many, many nuts is only going to have the opposite effect; calorie surplus results in weight gain.

The take-away from this study is that nuts are a healthy alternative to any unhealthy foods you might be indulging in on a regular basis, and substituting nuts for them could help you avoid weight gain. This study doesn't establish cause—but at this point, do we really need cause to stop eating junk food?

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