Nuts sometimes get a bad rap in the diet world: They're high in fat and calorically dense, meaning just a small portion has a lot of calories.
But a burgeoning body of research highlighting the health benefits and even the potential weight-management benefits of nuts like pistachios, almonds and cashews has helped shift our perspective.
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Nuts can be part of a weight-management plan — and they may even help the cause. They're a source of plant-based protein and satiating healthy fats, and they contain fiber, which helps keep us full. Plus, research shows we may not absorb all the calories from nuts, according to an August 2012 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found we may not digest up to 20 percent of the calories.
Additionally, a January 2020 study in Appetite found that adding a 250-calorie snack of pistachios in the morning did not lead to weight gain over the course of 12 weeks. The subjects were permitted to eat whatever they wanted for the rest of the day, and those who ate a daily pistachio snack naturally consumed fewer carbohydrates throughout the day. Their lipid profiles improved, too.
So nuts really can help you on your weight-loss journey — but there are a few potential missteps you might take that can derail your goals. Here are five mistakes to look out for.
1. Worrying About the Fat in Nuts
Avoiding high-fat foods like olive oil, avocados and nuts is an antiquated way of thinking (and dieting).
Our body needs dietary fat to sustain itself and certain fatty acids, like omega-3s, add benefits like reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, per the American Heart Association. While you don't need to go keto (in fact, we don't recommend doing so), don't avoid eating healthy fats entirely.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that 20 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake comes from fat. So, if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, this equates to 45 to 77 grams of fat per day. For reference, a serving of walnuts has 19 grams of fat, easily fitting into these recommendations, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
2. Going Overboard on Portions
A serving of nuts is 1 ounce — about a handful — and has about 160 to 200 calories. A handful of nuts isn't much by way of volume, so it's easy to overdo it. (The one exception here is in-shell pistachios. Because the nut is in the shell, the serving appears larger.)
It's tricky to manage portions when it comes to nuts, especially because the number of nuts you get per serving ranges drastically from nut to nut. A one-ounce serving of nuts is 24 almonds, eight Brazil nuts or 49 pistachios, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
To prevent mindlessly filling up on nuts, portion out a serving instead of eating out of a bag and pay attention to your hunger levels as you're enjoying.
1-Ounce Nut Servings
- 24 almonds
- 8 Brazil nuts
- 49 pistachios
- 18 cashews
- 12 macadamia nuts
- 35 peanuts
- 15 pecan halves
- 14 English walnut halves
3. Thinking of Nuts Only as a Snack Food
Restricting nuts to just a snack option limits their potential. Nuts are a delicious snack on their own, but cooking with nuts brings creativity and crunch along with a dose of healthy nutrients to your dishes.
Use soaked cashews for a plant-based cheese or chopped pistachios as a crust for baked salmon; these are simple ways to incorporate nuts into your meals. Easier yet, just add walnuts to your salads as a topper or try throwing cashews into a stir-fry.
4. Choosing Oil-Roasted Nuts, or Heavily Flavored or Salted Varieties
Nuts are about 90 percent fat on their own, so there's no need to add more fat by roasting nuts in oil. Eat raw or dry-roasted nuts instead. If the packaging just says "roasted," check the ingredients list to see if oil has been added, the Mayo Clinic recommends.
You'll also find many flavored options on the market, like honey-roasted or glazed. These can be high in added sugars. While plain roasted or raw are your healthiest bets, if you like flavored nuts, look for options with minimal added sugar — just one to two grams per serving. Other flavors like Ranch or BBQ may be high in salt and other additives.
Salting nuts is pretty commonplace. While this isn't an issue for everyone, if you're salt-sensitive or have high blood pressure, you'll want to look for unsalted varieties. Nuts that have been "lightly salted" may be appropriate for some people. Again, always check the ingredients list to see if salt has been added.
5. Choosing Nut Butter with Added Sugar or Oils
Almond butter and cashew butter are naturally delicious. They're also an easy (and tasty) way to get your daily serving of nuts.
But some nut butter brands contain added sugars. You'll find this more often in options like vanilla- or cinnamon-flavored nut butter, but even some plain nut butters get the sweet treatment. You'll also want to keep an eye out for added oils in nut spreads: As is the case with oil-roasted nuts, there's no need to add oil to food already rich in healthy fats.
To avoid added sugars and oils, always read the ingredients list when shopping for nut butter.
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- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Discrepancy Between the Atwater Factor Predicted and Empirically Measured Energy Values of Almonds in Human Diets"
- Appetite: "Daily Consumption of Pistachios Over 12 Weeks Improves Dietary Profile Without Increasing Body Weight in Healthy Women: A Randomized Controlled Intervention"
- American Heart Association: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults"
- MyFoodData: "Walnuts"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Nutrition: Nuts & Heart Health"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nuts and Your Heart: Eating Nuts for Heart Health"