Eating too much of anything can make you fat, nuts included. While it's true that most high-calorie diet plans include nuts for weight gain, that doesn't mean they can't make a healthy addition to any diet plan, no matter your weight goals. Nuts may be calorie-dense, but they also contain a slew of nutrients that support health, and eating nuts may even help you lose weight.
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Eating more calories than your body burns leads to fat gain, whether those extra calories come from healthy nuts or too much junk.
What Makes You Fat?
Everyone seems to have that one friend who can eat all the pizza, ice cream and cake that they want without gaining a pound, or the friend who eats nothing but salad and celery and can't drop a pound. No matter where you are on that spectrum, your calorie intake and metabolism determine whether you gain fat or lose fat.
When you eat more calories than your body burns, no matter where those calories come from, your body stores those extra calories as fat to save for later. When you burn more calories than you eat, your body turns to the stored fat to use for energy. While that seems pretty simple, the number of calories you need to swing your weight in either direction depends on many factors, including your genetics, body composition, activity, age and gender.
Rates of overweight and obesity are on the rise in the United States because people are simply eating more calories than they burn. While eating too many calories from any type of food, even healthy nuts, can lead to weight gain, the growing waistlines in the United States are attributed to larger portion sizes and too many processed high-calories foods, like fast food, sweets and snack foods.
How to Gain Weight Healthfully
As previously noted, to gain weight you need to add more calories to your usual intake. How much depends on many factors, but you may be able to start with 250 extra calories a day and adjust up or down as needed. But these extra calories shouldn't come from just any food.
The reasons nuts are often featured on a weight-gain diet is because of the nutrition factor. As demonstrated by the obesity rate, you can most certainly gain weight filling your diet with fast food, soda, chips and cookies. But eating these types of foods won't lead to a healthy weight gain and may increase your risk of serious health issues, such as heart disease or diabetes. Even skinny people can develop these diet-related diseases if they make poor food choices.
If your goal is to gain weight, you need to eat the same healthy foods as someone who wants to lose weight. The only difference is that you need to be more creative in finding ways to pack in those extra calories from the nutrient-rich foods to meet your increased calorie needs to support weight gain.
The Weight Gain Foods List
Figuring out what to eat when you're trying to gain weight shouldn't be too difficult. Your weight gain foods list should contain a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups.
Examples of nutrient-rich, high-calorie foods to eat include:
- Grains: quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat bread and oats
- Fruits: avocados, bananas and dried fruit
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, peas, squash and corn
- Protein: fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, poultry and lean red meat
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt and plant-milk alternatives such as soy milk
- Fats: oil, nuts, seeds and nut butters
To help meet your increased calorie needs for weight gain, try to eat regularly scheduled meals and snacks, and add calories when you can. For example, add dried fruit to your oatmeal made with milk; sprinkle cheese on your mixed greens at lunch and saute your broccoli in olive oil at dinner.
Read more: The Best Nuts for a Low-Carb Diet
Nutrition in Your Nuts
According to a December 2017 systematic review published in Nutrients, there is a correlation between nut consumption and a reduction in risk factors for chronic diseases. So not only can nuts help you gain weight, but they can also support your health. Nuts are rich in fatty acids, fiber, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Comparing the nutritional profile of a 1-ounce serving for different types of nuts can help you see their value:
- Almonds: 168 calories, 6 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, 3.5 grams of fiber
- Brazil nuts: 186 calories, 4 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of carbs, 2.1 grams of fiber
- Cashew nuts: 157 calories, 5 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbs, 0.9 grams of fiber
- Hazelnuts: 176 calories, 4 grams of protein, 17 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbs, 2.7 grams of fiber
- Pistachio nuts (shelled): 159 calories, 6 grams of protein, 13 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbs, 2.9 grams of fiber
- Walnuts: 185 calories, 4 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, 1.9 grams of fiber
For the record, peanuts are often classified as a nut, but are part of the legume family of foods. But like tree nuts, peanuts make a healthy addition to your diet. A 1-ounce serving of peanuts has 166 calories, 7 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs and 2.4 grams of fiber.
Read more: 9 Healthy Nuts That May Help You Live Longer
Nuts for Weight Gain
Because they're high in calories and nutrient dense, nuts for weight gain seems like a no-brainer. You can easily add them to any meal or snack to help add those extra 250 calories to your diet to gain weight. Sprinkle a handful in your morning oatmeal or your lunch salad. Make mixed nuts and dried fruit your go-to snack for the mid-morning munchies. Add roasted nuts to your grain or veggie side dish for flavor and calories.
As noted on your weight-gain food list, nut butters are also a great way to pack in calories. While the nutrition in nut butters varies, you may be able to get as much as 100 calories per tablespoon, which you can spread on crackers, toast or apple slices. Nut butter may also serve as a high-calorie dip for your carrots or celery.
What About Weight Loss?
While nuts may be prominently featured on the weight-gain food list, they also seem to support weight loss and a healthy weight. According to a January 2010 review published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, regular nut consumption isn't associated with weight gain. The authors of the review note that it may be due to the satiety factor (because nuts keep hunger away) as well as your body's inability to fully metabolize nuts and extract all the calories.
In fact, nuts may help you lose weight. A December 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition investigated the effects of an almond-enriched diet on weight loss in a group of people with overweight and obesity following a reduced-calorie diet. The researchers found that the almond-eating group lost more body fat than the group who ate no nuts, even though they were eating the same number of calories. Note that this was a small study and more research is needed before recommendations can be made. The study didn't indicate the best time to eat nuts for weight loss.
Read more: Can Gaining Muscle Make You Gain Weight?
The Value of Exercise
Whether you're trying to lose weight or gain weight, exercise needs to be part of your plan. For weight gain, regular weight training helps turn those extra calories into healthy muscle instead of fat. For weight loss, regular exercise, including 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week, plus strength-training twice a week, helps you burn those extra calories to support your weight-loss efforts.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Why People Become Overweight"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Healthy Weight Gain"
- FamilyDoctor.org: "Healthy Ways to Gain Weight"
- Nutrients: "Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Almonds"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Brazil Nuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Cashew Nuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Hazelnuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Pistachio Nuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Walnuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Peanuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Peanut Butter"
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Nuts and Healthy Body Weight Maintenance Mechanisms"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Almond Consumption During Energy Restriction Lowers Truncal Fat and Blood Pressure in Compliant Overweight or Obese Adults"
- Trifecta: "How Many Calories Should I Eat to Gain Weight"