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Nuts and Weight, BMI, and Waist Circumference
I've also reported that eating nuts in place of other types of snacks can help you lose weight, although it's worth noting that one research article does not necessarily mean certainty. 

Huge News About Nuts
If you've been following Dr. Gourmet for even a few months, you're probably aware that I am a big fan of nuts as snacks. They're full of unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, plus they taste great and are convenient. It almost doesn't matter what kind of nuts you choose - they're all great for you.

Nuts and Cholesterol
We've known for a while that nuts are great for you, and not just because eating nuts in place of other snacks won't result in weight gain. There are many studies on the effects of eating many different nuts on cholesterol levels. 


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Best Snack? Nuts!

almonds spilling out of a glass dish

When I'm giving a lecture about eating healthy, someone invariably asks about snacking. As you may already know, I'm not a big fan of snacking between meals when you're trying to lose weight. All too often that snacking simply adds calories that you don't need. Still, people really want to know what is the best snacking option.

They're always surprised when I say, "Nuts."

"But what kind of nuts?" they ask.

"Nuts," I say again.

And I go on to explain that it really doesn't matter what kind of nuts they eat. Certainly, I would agree that you should avoid nuts that are honey roasted or have other varieties of sugary coatings, and that unsalted is better than salted and that plain is better than roasted (even dry roasted). But if you're going to have a snack, a small handful of nuts, with their crunchy texture and higher levels of fiber, are going to be far more satisfying than other salty/savory snacks. They're also going to help improve your cholesterol score (Bite, 05/12/10) and may even help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes because of their high levels of magnesium (Bite, 10/15/08) as well as reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome (Bite, 02/16/09).

Other research has suggested that snacking on nuts instead of an equal amount of other foods results in less weight gain in the nut eaters even though nuts are more calorie-dense. That research is not the best quality, however, as researchers in New Zealand and Australia noted recently (J Nutr Met doi:10.1155/2011/357350). They designed a study to compare the effects of snacking on nuts with the effects of snacking on the same amount of an equally calorie-dense food.

They recruited 118 men and women whose BMI was less than 30 (of normal weight or clinically overweight) who were otherwise healthy to participate in a feeding study. At the start of the study the participants provided information about themselves including a 3-day food diary and their amount of physical activity. Their cholesterol levels were checked and their Body Mass Index and amount of fat mass was also measured by the researchers.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups who were provided one of four daily snacks: a hazelnut group, a chocolate group, a potato chips group and a control group which did not receive snacks. Regardless of which snack they received, whether it was hazelnuts, chocolate or chips, each snack consisted of the same number of calories.

For twelve weeks the participants followed their usual diets with the addition of their assigned daily snacks. At the end of the twelve weeks the participants' weight was again measured along with their cholesterol levels and fat mass.

The researchers found that those who snacked on nuts tended to reduce the number of calories they ate at regular meals. In fact, about 60% of the calories that the nuts added to their diet were displaced by eating less at meals. Contrary to previous studies, however, this was also true for the chocolate group and the potato chip group.

Still, the nut snackers saw more of an improvement in their cholesterol scores than did those snacking on chocolate or potato chips, although the participants' percentage of body fat did not change.

What this means for you

Bearing in mind the comparatively high number of calories for their weight, nuts are still the best snack for those who like salty or savory snacks. While their effects on weight loss seem to be overblown, they're still great for you. Keep your favorite nuts on hand and make them a healthy habit - calorie for calorie, they're still far better for you than an equal amount of potato chips or chocolate.

First posted: October 5, 2011