The Fascinating Link Between Walnuts and Weight Loss

Walnuts have a lot more to offer than just being a healthy snack.
Walnuts may be the key to curbing cravings and suppressing appetite. (Image: Aksenovko/iStock/GettyImages)

We already knew walnuts were delicious and nutritious, but it turns out they might also be a secret weapon against weight gain.

A new study from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston found that consuming walnuts lights up the right insula — the part of the brain that controls fullness and cravings. In other words, eating walnuts makes you feel fuller for longer. Win-win, right?

The study involved 10 obese participants actually living at the BIDMC research center so their diets could be closely monitored for two five-day sessions. Half of the participants were given smoothies with 48 grams of walnuts — about 1.7 ounces — the recommended daily serving from the American Diabetes Association. The other participants were given a comparable smoothie, minus the walnuts.

Those who consumed the walnut smoothies reported feeling less hungry, and their brain-imaging results showed that there was increased activity in the appetite-control region. The region stayed activated even when the walnut-smoothie drinkers were shown pictures of “highly desirable” foods like hamburgers and desserts.

According to LIVESTRONG.COM’s MyPlate App, a free calorie tracker, 1/4 cup of walnut pieces comes in at 200 calories — a significant number for the serving quantity. The calorie count is high, with the 48 grams recommended in the study coming in at 256 calories. However, that number is filled with healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats; not to mention high levels of protein and fibers.

“We don’t often think about how what we eat impacts the activity in our brain,” said the study’s first author Olivia M. Farr, Ph.D., an instructor in medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at BIDMC. “We know people report feeling fuller after eating walnuts, but it was pretty surprising to see evidence of activity changing in the brain related to food cues and, by extension, what people were eating and how hungry they feel.”

In addition to feeling fuller, those who consumed the walnut smoothies tended to make healthier food choices later on. The researchers note that the area of the brain involved in appetite control is also connected to cognitive control and salience, which influences how closely people pay attention to their food choices.

The researchers plan to take their experiment one step further in determining whether larger quantities of walnuts, and potentially other foods too, could instigate higher activation of appetite control. They hope is that this research will eventually lead to more effective obesity treatments or medications that can help people keep their weight in check.

Walnuts are not alone in having health benefits: Here are nine healthy nuts that may help you live longer!

What Do YOU Think?

Have you discovered any successful tricks for curbing cravings or an insatiable appetite? Will you give walnuts a try in the future? Tell us in the comments!

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