Nuts Don't Make You Gain Weight, a Meta-Analysis Found

September 21, 2022

It's time to reconsider your approach if you avoid nuts because you believe their high-calorie content would cause weight gain. A recent meta-analysis and systematic review of prior research on nut intake and weight status, which was published in Obesity Reviews, determined that the worry that eating nuts may cause weight gain is unfounded.

"Nuts are a nutrient-dense food, providing a plant-based protein source, fiber, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients," says Stephanie Nishi, PhD, dietitian, postdoctoral researcher, and one of the authors on the study about nuts and weight.

About the Study

The scientists reviewed previous studies that included a variety of nuts, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts, and examined the effects on obesity, body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference.

In their studies, researchers used 92 reports altogether.
569,910 participants from seven distinct prospective cohorts participated in six cohort trials. Dr. Nishi says the team examined if there should be a concern about increased adiposity with nut intake in this new meta-analysis. The remaining 86 papers were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with 5,873 participants.

"The findings showed that nut intake was not associated with weight gain and is even associated with some decreased measures of adiposity," says Dr. Nishi.

The findings also demonstrated that nuts did not increase other adiposity indicators (such as waist circumference or BMI) investigated in adults.

"I am glad that this study came out because it reminds us to have the conversation about health versus calories," says dietitian Zach Cordell, MS, RDN.

He continues by saying that people frequently worry about gaining weight if they eat foods that are high in calories. Some of those worries about eating nuts are allayed by this study.

Health Benefits of Nuts

Nuts are well known for being high in calories. This implies that every bite will have more calories than an equivalent serving of other foods, including grains, vegetables, or fruit. Unfortunately, there is a persistent myth that high-calorie nuts should be avoided because they will make you gain weight. What is frequently forgotten is that nuts are also included in dietary patterns that are advised to protect heart health, such as the DASH diet, Portfolio Diet, and the Mediterranean diet.

Interestingly, previous studies also show that nuts may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing body weight, yet the perception that nuts cause weight gain still prevails. Frequent (at least 4 times a week) nut consumption has been shown to help improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes and may help lower the risk of developing heart disease.

"Nuts have been one of my consistently recommended foods for nearly all my clients," says Cordell. "The health benefits are not just related to weight loss, but also in reducing inflammation, reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, and helping to manage diabetes."

Why Nuts May Not Cause Weight Gain

Despite having a high fat and calorie content, nuts do not appear to increase the risk of obesity, according to the study. The researchers offer a few explanations on why. These consist of:

  • Nuts' unsaturated fats are more easily oxidized and have a stronger thermogenic effect than saturated fatty acids, which results in the less fat buildup.
  • Due to their high fiber and protein content, nuts satiate (make you feel full).
  • Because of the physical makeup of nuts, only a portion of the calories is utilized during digestion. In actuality, up to 25% of the calories in nuts may be overstated.

"The physical structure of nuts may also contribute to their satiating effect because the act of chewing to break down the physical structure of nuts may modify appetite sensations," says Dr. Nishi.  

Tips for Enjoying More Nuts in Your Diet

"The amount of nuts generally recommended to consume is about 28 to 45 grams (1 to 1.5 ounces) a day for their health benefits," says Dr. Nishi. That's a small handful of nuts.

Cordell claims that flavored, raw, roasted, or unsalted nuts can all have a place in a healthy diet, but advises limiting nuts that are high in added sugars. While nut intake has marginally increased in the last 10 years as a result of these recommendations, intake levels have remained well below the suggested guidelines, and nuts are unquestionably not the cause of obesity in North America. If eating the nut seems like candy to you, you might not be getting all of its health benefits, he claims.

"When incorporating nuts into an eating pattern, try replacing a less nutrient-dense snack or food item (such as cookies or chips) if these are usually consumed," says Dr. Nishi.

Dr. Nishi advises including nuts in cereal or yogurt, adding them to salads, soups, or pasta, sautéing them with veggies, or combining a handful with fruit for an on-the-go snack. As for which nuts are the best option, the majority of specialists concur that all nuts are beneficial. It makes sense to eat a range of nuts because each nut seems to offer a unique advantage. For example, walnuts claim the most omega-3 fats, cashews have the most iron, pecans are the richest in antioxidants, and almonds and pistachios have the most calcium.

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