Feast and then famine! For some, that’s the cycle of Yom Tov and its aftermath. Post Yom-Tov editions of popular magazines are full of weight loss recipes and tips in anticipation of readers’ re-dedication to their dieting efforts during this time of year. Because routine presents fewer food challenges than the holiday season, it lends itself nicely to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but some people tend to get overenthusiastic and cut out perfectly healthy foods in the name of weight loss.
A year ago I wrote in defense of carbs, a nutrient that’s recently received a lot of negative attention. This time I’m sticking up for nuts, a food which often gets the cold shoulder from dieters. I know that when I suggest that a client include nuts in his or her diet, the reaction I will likely get is “But nuts are so fattening!”
It’s not surprising that nuts have the reputation they do, because in fact, they do pack a quite a caloric punch – but they also cram in an incredible amount of nutrition. Nuts are high in fiber and an excellent source of plant protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Regularly eating nuts can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and cognitive decline.
Nuts are so beneficial to your health that it’s well worthwhile to learn how to portion them to fit within your calorie needs even if it means cutting back somewhere else. Interestingly, a number of recent studies exploring the effect of nut consumption on weight loss have actually demonstrated positive results, such as the discovery that substituting nuts for other sources of calories led to greater losses in weight and body fat, and that individuals who consume nuts at least twice per week were much less likely to gain weight than those who never consumed nuts. Large-scale studies have shown that as nut consumption increased, body mass index decreased.
But if nuts are so high in calories, why are they helpful in weight loss? Perhaps it’s because their high protein and fiber content increases satiety and results in less eating later on. It might also be something unique in the way nuts are digested. A recent study revealed that whole almonds have 20% fewer calories than previously thought because their rigid cell structures make fewer calories available for absorption. We certainly don’t know all there is to know, but the latest research clearly supports including nuts in your diet for all-around health, including achieving a healthy weight.
Nuts differ not only in appearance and taste, but also in the specific nutritional benefits they provide. Get to know your nuts and vary your intake for optimal health benefits.
- Almonds – rich in vitamin E, fiber, and calcium
- Brazil nuts – high in selenium
- Cashews – good source of iron and magnesium
- Hazelnuts – provide fiber and B vitamins
- Macadamia nuts – rich in monounsaturated fats
- Pecans – highest in antioxidants
- Pine nuts – good source of zinc, niacin, and manganese
- Pistachios – lowest in calories and provide protein, B vitamins, and fiber
- Walnuts – unique for providing heart-healthy omega-3 fats
- Peanuts (a legume as opposed to a “real” nut) – high in protein and rich in antioxidants
Incorporating nuts into your diet is easy. You can try adding a tablespoon or two of chopped nuts to hot or cold cereal, yogurt, or salad, or mix nuts with dried fruit to make trail mix for a convenient snack. Use peanut butter as a spread for bread, crackers, apple slices, or celery sticks, or be brave and try almond butter for variety and some extra calcium. You can also use nut butters as a fat source in baking or an addition to smoothies for some extra protein. There’s a new product called PB2 made from roasted peanuts that are pressed to remove most of the fat, which greatly reduces the calorie content while leaving behind most of the protein. You miss out on the heart-healthy fat, but on a calorie-controlled diet, this product can be helpful by providing a good source of plant protein.
Note that a serving of nuts isn’t very large (about a handful), so if portion control is an issue for you, you might want to bag your nuts into individual servings so you don’t end up consuming more than planned. Nuts are rich and flavorful all on their own and don’t need a lot of dressing up with sugar or salt, so try enjoying them in as natural a form as possible.
Let’s hear from you! How do you like your nuts? What are your favorite ways to use them?