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Are Nuts Fattening?

The question ‘are nuts fattening‘ is one I get asked regularly.

In fact, almost every time I suggest that people should have nuts as a snack, I get some opposition.

It’s an interesting one that requires us to take a closer look at the facts…

Are nuts fattening: What the studies say

No-one’s going to argue that nuts aren’t high in fat — they are.

But, many people assume you shouldn’t eat them when trying to lose weight. Studies have confirmed, however, that people who eat nuts have a lower body weight than those who don’t.

Since almonds are a pretty popular nut, let’s think about them for a minute.

Are nuts fattening: First study:

  • 81 healthy adults 
  • Given 60 grams of raw or dry-roasted almonds for 6 months
  • Participants were expected to gain 14 lbs
  • Instead weight gain was only 1.3 lbs for men, and 0.3 lbs for women

Are nuts fattening: Second study:

  • 20 healthy, overweight women
  • Given 65 grams of almonds for 10 weeks
  • The mathematical theory of “energy consumed minus energy expended equals weight gain” predicted that women should gain 7.5 pounds
  • Instead, the participants’ weight did not change at all. In fact, their weights went on average from 155.9 lbs to 154.6 lbs.

So, it seems clear the impact of nut consumption on weight is either negligible, or non existent.

Also remember that in these studies, participants were not on any sort of diet.

Nothing had changed in their lifestyle other than the inclusion of nuts.

This begs the question, what would the effect of nuts be on weight if they were also part of a weight management regimen?

Other studies have shown that replacing carbs with almonds in a weight loss program leads to greater reductions in body weight and BMI, waist circumference and fat mass.

Therefore, compelling evidence suggests you can include nuts in your regular or weight loss diet without fearing weight gain.

So, how can this paradoxical phenomenon be explained?

Are nuts healthy? 3 reasons why nuts aren’t fattening:

1. Nuts have high satiety properties

People who eat nuts report sharp reductions in appetite. This is because nuts have a high fullness index.

Studies have shown that when you eat nuts there is a reduction in energy intake. In fact, about 70% of the energy provided by nuts is offset by lower food consumption at subsequent meals.

2. Nuts are not absorbed efficiently

The fat contained in nuts is not efficiently absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. This manifests itself as elevated fecal fat loss.

It’s thoughts that up to 20% of the lipid content of whole nuts will be lost in the stool. This is around 10-20% of the energy contained in nuts.

3. Nuts increase metabolism

Regular consumption of nuts increases resting energy expenditure (REE). This is the minimal energy we spend in one day at rest — just doing nothing.

In one study, people who ate 500 calories per day from peanuts for 19 weeks, showed an 11% increment in REE.

To get an idea of what effect a REE increase of this magnitude would have on your weight, let me explain:

  • The average woman in the US (30 year-old, 5’ 4’’ tall who weighs 160lbs) has a REE of 1,511 calories per day
  • An increase of 11% in her REE means her body burns an extra 166 calories per day
  • She can choose to “eat” these additional calories without worrying about gaining weight, or “leave” them and lose weight at a pace of 1.4 lb per month, or 17 lb per year
  • And, that is by just including nuts in the diet, with no other lifestyle changes

To clarify — are nuts fattening?

Well, although nuts are among the most energy dense foods around, studies show little to no impact on body weight.

This is great news, because nuts have so many health benefits. Therefore, excluding them from your diet would be crazy!

Next time you feel like indulging, go for whole, raw, unsalted nuts, and don’t feel guilty about it!

However, if you’re asking ‘But, what nuts?’, then read Nuts You Should Add to Your Diet

Note: I’ve also dealt with the question, Are Peanuts Healthy so check that out, too.

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Comments 59

    1. Melanie

      Hi Steve,
      Actually, Matthew Denos wrote the article, so all credit to him for his excellent work, he did a great job!

  1. Cathy in NZ

    I am fond of nuts and use them when I don’t want to eat a ‘meal’ – sometimes by the time I get home from University I am too tired to think about putting something together OR I have eaten my ‘fill’ during the day…and about 1/2 handful of nice nuts, is just right.

    I particularily am fond of the dry-roasted almonds (with skins on) that I can bulk buy at my grocery store. Although, I would prefer cashews but my budget doesn’t allow for me to have oodles of varieties at one time…

    1. Melanie

      Hi Cathy,
      I know what you mean, nuts really can be expensive. I’ve found buying them from a health food store — where you can choose your own — works out well, that way you can get a good variety, and you’re not stuck with lots of opened bags, which go off very quickly.

  2. Matthew Denos

    Hi Cathy,
    I am a big fan of almonds, too. I eat them everyday. Today, I went on a canoe trip. At some point, my canoe flipped and I got wet, totally. My almonds got soaked, but I still ate them!

    1. Cathy in NZ

      Hello Matthew

      I hope you got dry quickly and got back into your canoe to ‘sail’ away or is that ‘canoe’ away. I’m all out of almond supply right now but hope to rectify that real sooooooon.

  3. Cathy in NZ

    it’s not the fat item but rather what extras you put on them…so if you coated the nuts in a caramelised covering it would probably send weight on faster…(I may have that quite wrong, cottonwool in my head tonight – test on gender/identity theories both East and West!)

  4. Leah - WellTuned

    Great article. I too love nuts, but have always tried to eat them in moderation because of the fat content. That’s why I tend to stick to almonds, though I recently read an article on the health properties of walnuts, so have allowed myself some of those as well.

    Years ago I heard that with cashew nuts, you’ll never find them in their shell, because between the shell and the nut is an oil I believe they said, that is toxic, which has to be removed before the nut is consumed. Though this seems somewhat hard to believe, it is true that I have never seen them in their shell. Just wondering if anyone here may know about that.

    I’ve also heard that roasting them reduces the nutritional value, so I tend to eat only raw ones. Does anyone know if that is fact or fiction, as they really do taste nice when they are roasted?

    Anyway, thanks for the great article and now I can go and enjoy my nuts!
    .-= Leah – WellTuned´s last blog ..Cholesterol – What It Is And Why We Need It. =-.

    1. Melanie

      Hi Leah,
      As far as I know, it is actually the shell oil that is toxic to humans, not the oil which comes from the nut itself.

      Roasting nuts does reduce the antioxidant levels and healthy fats, but only slightly. One thing to be aware of is that nuts are often roasted with salt, so perhaps it’s a good idea to only eat the roasted varieties in moderation, but choose raw nuts most of the time.

  5. Kelsey

    Hi!

    What a great article. Good to know that those delicious nuts are really good for me! Interesting information about the fat content not being digested completely–I didn’t know that!

    I’m an intern at Healthy Monday–a non-profit group that aims to use Monday as the day to promote healthy habits and behaviors. I love all the articles on this blog, and was wondering if you’d like join our blogger network to write a “Healthy Monday Tip” each Monday. Email me and I can give you more information! But I really think you would do some great Healthy Monday Tips! Let me know :)

  6. Amari @ Eat Chic

    As a soon-to-be dietitian I get this questions ALL the time! I’m glad you did a post on it, you covered some really great information! I will surely be passing this on to clients who doubt the nutritional benefits of eating nuts while dieting! What a great blog!

    1. Melanie

      Amari,
      Thank you for commenting, it’s always good to “meet” other dietitians. I’m glad the information is helpful. Best wishes.

  7. Linda

    Thanks for your article, i started a diet today and looked up whether nuts werent that fattening, coz ive heard mixed reports, glad to know they are good for you! will definitly be hitting up a health food place tomorrow!! haha

  8. Eli

    Even if they are healthy, I overeat them too. With a jar with 38 servings of cashews bought just yesterday, I already ate about half the jar (19 servings left)

    There is an ongoing argument about whether counting calories work or counting calories does work. Today, I probably ate 1,000 calories worth of nuts and they do not keep my hunger satisfied.

    1. Melanie

      Eli,
      Did you eat from the jar, or count out one portion for yourself? It’s best to have a mix of nuts for satisfying hunger. I find almonds, Brazil nuts and walnuts are good, rather than sticking to one type. I’m not sure what it is about cashews, but they are extremely “more-ish.”

  9. Nawaf

    one word, I love you all, i’ve started eating nuts, not only it helps metabolism and weight loss, it also a good anti-estrogen natural food, thus makes you fight diseases better, and not to mention body-wise it puts you in shape faster, and more effective, you starting your journal into going to gym, and losing weight, add eating nuts to your list aswell

    1. Melanie

      60g is roughly 2 ounces. Perhaps they choose almonds since they are lower in calories, but I think as long as you stick within a sensible portion you can’t go wrong with adding nuts to your diet regularly.

  10. John

    It should be noted that while the studies mentioned in the article deal with almonds, other nuts are equally beneficial.

    There’s a study with pistachios that shows how they are a healthy snack which aids weight loss.

    I actually wrote about it in a similar article here: Eat Nuts To Lose Weight

    1. Cathy in NZ

      One of the problems of certain nuts including your suggestion of pistachios – is the cost. Here in NZ they are about the price of golden nuggets…so I would be only using them for some special occasion…which wasn’t necessarily linked to diet :-)

      1. John

        Hi Cathy,
        I had no idea they were so expensive in NZ. Where I live they cost about the same as other nuts.

        My point was that a variety of nuts work.

      2. Melanie

        Hi Cathy, I know what you mean. Nuts are so expensive, particularly pistachios and cashews, at least here in the UK. I find one of the most cost-effective things to do is mix the nuts with seeds, which tend to be cheaper here. Would that work for your Cathy?

    2. Melanie

      Hi John, Thanks for sharing that info… it’s good to hear about similar studies which are in agreement.

  11. cathy in NZ

    currently – I’m getting raw nuts and semi-dry roasting them in a frypan…

    currently sunflower, sesame, flaxseed, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin – I think that’s all. Of course the very small seeds popped in last :-)

    then I mix through some ‘spicy’ ground up stuff which gives them a bit of a boast – a bit of oil if they are a bit dry…

    a friend gave me the idea when she gave me some nuts done in a similar way and put them in a very narrow jar – so when I dish them out onto my palm there is just a nice mouthfull :-)

  12. Jackie-O

    This makes me sooo happy, and relieved. ha! I just actually had a few handful of almonds right before reading this. Now, I am going to continue chowing down on almonds.

  13. Michelle D

    I just wanted to say, thank you for this very informative article. I’ve recently turned a new lease in life with my way of eating. I really got sick and tired of being fat and always feeling so bloated and tired. In looking for healthier alternatives for food I decided to change my ways to a total vegetarian diet so while looking for food at the Whole Foods Store to add to my snacking stash I came across a tub of “Continental Divide Trail Mix” and in it contains, Sunflower Kernels, Sultana Rains, Walnuts, Pumpkin Kernels, Hazelnuts, Almonds, Cashews and Pecans. I’m really happy to come across this article because I did not know that there were so many health benefits to nuts, so now instead of eating them sparingly, I’m going to dive into them more often. Thank you so much for being an active article.

    1. Matthew

      Hi Michelle,

      It is great that you decided to change your eating pattern. I am glad you found some help and encouragement in my article. Whole Foods Stores are a great source of nuts and dried food. I used to take mine from them when I lived in Saint Louis, MO. Only make sure the “Continental Divide Trail Mix” does not have any added sugar to it. Thank you for your nice comment.

    2. Melanie

      Hi Michelle,
      I’m glad you found this article. I find that there is absolutely no detrimental effects in terms of weight gain when one portion (1/4 cup) of nuts are eaten each day… enjoy!

  14. karima

    Hey Melanie, I’m wondering if you could email me some tips or i could email you telling my problem and see if you could help me! great article btw, it helps me alot with my diet. thank you xx

    1. Melanie

      Peanuts are an okay choice some of the time. But, I tend to recommend unsalted, unroasted nuts where possible. When eating any nuts, stick with around 1oz as a portion.

    1. Melanie

      Hi Janie, Definitely. I have found that nuts are so much more satisfying, and I do attribute this to their fat and protein content.

  15. Laura

    What about phytates? I have read conflicting information about nuts containing anti-nutrients, therefore not being so healthy after all! Should nuts be soaked? thank you!

    1. Melanie

      Hi Laura,
      I’ve heard about this, but I must confess, I haven’t looked into it in enough detail to make a recommendation. As far as I can see this is something that is recommended if you follow a primal-type diet.

      Some people who eat a lot of nuts can suffer digestive problems, and this is thought to be because of the lectins, phytates, and enzyme inhibitors in raw nuts. If you do experience problems digesting nuts, soaking them seems to be helpful.

      Otherwise, just go for raw nuts or seeds, that haven’t been toasted or roasted.

  16. Anna

    Does this mean that dry roasted or activated almonds also have less calories being absorbed as raw ones? Or do all of their calories become absorbed because they have been more broken down? I love dry roasted nuts but will the raw version give me more weight loss benefit? Please let me know can’t seem to find an answer!

    1. Melanie

      Hi Anna, No, dry roasted almonds will have the same calories as raw almonds. Raw almonds have a more rigid texture, which can make it more difficult for the stomach to breakdown, however dry roasted almonds are digested more easily by the body due to the change in texture. See this study by the University of California. They even suggested that roasted almonds may release more nutrients in the body due to their higher digestibility than raw almonds.

      If the almonds are roasted after being coated in oil, though, they will have more calories, and if the oil is unhealthy that won’t be a good option.

      1. Anna

        But will roasted almonds require less energy for the body to break down resulting in ultimately more calories than raw even if they are dry-roasted? Or will they have the same reduced number of calories – 129 calories instead of the 160 currently?

  17. George

    They can also lower your risk for heart disease! You make a great point when you say the calories in nuts are not absorbed very well even though nuts are energy dense. You don’t get all of the calories.

  18. Nathanael de Lemos

    Hey,

    Just had to say this article is spot on I’m a personal trainer from UK London and I eat 10g of walnuts, 10g of brazil nuts, 10g of almonds and 10g of hazelnuts everyday!

    Nuts are the perfect snack full of good fats, protein and can help with cleaning the blood, lowering your blood pressure and aid digestion due to all the fibre.

    They keep you full for a good time as well stopping you from snacking from all the bad foods like crisps and sweeties.

  19. Sailor

    The key is moderate amounts of nuts will not cause a weight increase. There are important individual differences that need to be taken into account. Personally I could eat nuts until I’m stuffed. In fact for me, nuts are one of the foods I have the most difficulty controlling myself and I am prone to over eat; they do not satiate me. I’ve never been particularly fond of sweet food. For example, once my wife bought chocolate covered almonds, I peeled off the chocolate and threw it away. While moderate amounts of nuts will not cause weight gain, I can assure you that excessive consumption of nuts will lead to weight gain. I have to ask my wife to hide nuts if they are in the house because I will compulsively consume them if I know where they are.

    1. andii doode

      @ Sailor,

      I know exactly what you mean about compulsively consuming nuts, I too have the same problem and have to limit myself to what I buy as compared to what I would like to buy. I also have to try and keep track of how much I’m eating. I spent three months in Egypt last year and there are delicious nuts of every variety in abundance and at great prices too. I put on weight due to over consumption. I’m glad to report I eventually lost the weight but I had to ration eating nuts. I’m glad there are health benefits because like everyone here, I love them and eat them everyday… though my favourites tend to vary, these days I’m going through mixed nuts [cashew, almonds, peanuts] I tend to notice the peanuts a lot while munching… delicious!!

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