By David Grotto, RD, LDN
Sure, you’ve seen some if not all of the Real Life Nutrition blogger experts extol the virtues of nuts. And I think we’ve collectively made a pretty good case that they all can fit into a healthy lifestyle — even for those who have an eye on the scale. But new research may explain why it makes sense to go “a little nuts” when trying to fit into your jeans.
Wilbur O. Atwater, the father of modern nutrition in the United States, developed a way of testing foods to determine their calorie content. His method was all the rage in the late 1800s and, as it turns out, the early results from his “bomb calorimetry” method continue to be “the bomb“ and are used to this very day. However, when he reported the calorie consequences of eating nuts, they were based on category averages that also included beans, peas, soy flour, and “other” legumes. Despite that, today’s research and technology has poked holes in Atwater’s method by discovering that his data was based on class averages, small sample sizes, and mixed diets. Many of today’s calorie lists are still based on results from the early 1900s!
Recent research has discovered that “digestibility” needs to be taken into account when determining the energy (calorie) values of food. Clinical trials have found that fiber can affect digestion and the absorption of fats in the diet; in essence, blocking some of the fat from reaching cells in the body.
Remember your mom telling you to chew your foods well? When it comes to nuts, the more your chew, the more fat gets absorbed in the body. Apparently, our body doesn’t do a good job of breaking down bigger pieces of hard nuts like almonds, and much can go through the digestive tract unscathed. Researchers reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition back in 2004 that test subjects’ poop still contained “intact” almond tissue which prevented the release of 10-20% of the fat in the almonds that were eaten. Almond oil and butter, for example, reduce the barrier to absorbing most of the fat calories.
Now let me be clear: Be sure to chew your food well, but at the same time, you don’t have to turn it into a slurry in your mouth! The point of all of this is to point out that present day calorie information, especially for hard nuts, may be a little off and to also explain why nut eaters may be leaner than non nut eaters:
- Based on current research and not Atwater’s outdated information, an ounce of almonds, for example, contains 130 not 160 calories. Now you may be saying “So what? Who cares about 30 calories?” Well, a daily 30 calorie savings can translate into a little over three pound savings on the scale over time.
- This adds to the body of research that nuts have a positive role in managing weight. Almonds, for example, are featured in ten human clinical trials over the past ten years that demonstrated that they help satisfy hunger and aid in weight management.