Nuts: Love 'em or leave 'em?

By Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CP
Adjunct Professor, Kaplan University School of Health Sciences

Confused about whether or not you should eat nuts? Well, you are not alone. Many people, including those who are physically active, swear by nut butters (such as peanut and almond) as being the perfect anytime snack food. Yet others avoid nuts like the plague since nuts have a reputation of being very fattening. Some individuals may even refuse to keep nuts or nut butters in the house because they fear losing control, eating the whole jar or bag and eventually gaining weight.

While nuts are a calorie-dense food, research has shown that people who eat nuts do not weigh more than their non-nut eating counterparts and that they may, in fact, be thinner and less likely to gain weight over time.1 One of the main reasons for this is that nuts have a high degree of satiety, meaning they keep you feeling full and satisfied.

Which nuts are best?

Nuts are loaded with nutrients and fiber that are often lost in refined and processed foods. Each type of nuts offers its own health benefits and no one nut is superior to others. For instance, almonds are higher in fiber than walnuts, walnuts are higher in polyunsaturated fat than pecans, and peanuts are higher in vitamin E than walnuts.2 Variety is best when it comes to choosing nuts so aim to include several different types in your diet. As an example, use slivered almonds on your post-workout oatmeal, peanut butter on your pre-workout banana, trail mix with cashews and dried fruit for a satisfying afternoon snack, and walnuts in your dinner salad.

Still not convinced?

For many healthy individuals, the concern about weight management and “losing control” may still trump the knowledge they have about the health benefits of including nuts in their diets. If this is the case for you, read on for more good news about nuts. Pistachios are one of the most nutritious varieties of nuts and are one of the lowest calorie, lowest fat nuts. A 30 gram serving (about one ounce) of pistachios, with 49 kernels, has 170 calories and more than 30 different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.2  Active individuals may be interested to know that this nut is high in the antioxidants lutein, beta-carotene, and vitamin E, all of which can help reduce the oxidative stress that can lead to a number of chronic diseases. Pistachios also provide about 310 milligrams of potassium per one ounce serving, which is about as much potassium as is found in half of a banana. In addition, over 90 percent of the fat in pistachios is unsaturated, with 55 percent as monounsaturated fat and the rest as polyunsaturated fat. These fats are important for heart health and lowering blood cholesterol.

Other good news.

Pistachios may also help to put the brakes on speed eating and mindless munching. In-shell nuts slow down the rate at which you eat, allowing time for the satiety signals to reach the brain telling it that you have had enough food. 2 Pistachios are also one of the highest fiber nuts with 3 grams per serving which also adds to the feeling of fullness and satiety. Thus, pistachios can keep you full longer than a couple of those rice cakes you thought you should have instead.

Bottom line.

Incorporating a variety of nuts into your diet offers both health and weight-management benefits. Nuts contain magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, copper, manganese, healthy fats, fiber, phytochemicals, as well as other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants important for health. As an afternoon snack, nuts in moderation will keep you full longer and end up being fewer calories than a lower calorie snack that leads you to overeat later. If you are active, nuts and nut butters make great sports foods. As a pre-workout food, the protein and fat in nuts can keep hunger at bay and fuel you through a tough workout. As a post-workout food, nuts provide some protein for muscle repair with 6-8 grams per serving depending on the nut and the form (whole nut or nut butter) but should be paired with carbohydrates in order to optimize recovery. Some good nut/carbohydrate combinations include peanut butter and banana or bagel, nuts and oatmeal, and nuts and dried fruit or cold cereal.

It’s ok to “go nuts”—you may find that by including nuts in your diet you will benefit from that extra energy boost to sustain you through the day.


References

1. J.S. Sabate, “Nut consumption and body weight,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78 (2003): 6475-6505.
2. Pistachio Health,”Nutrient comparison of tree nuts,” http//www.pistachiohealth.com (accessed 2009).


Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CP

Jennifer Koslo is a full time professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches courses such as Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutritional Supplements, Sports Nutrition, and Contemporary Diet and Nutrition.  Ms. Koslo is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and one of the few Certified Specialists in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) in the country.  In addition to teaching online, Ms. Koslo is a sports nutrition consultant on a private consultation basis.

Ms. Koslo received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Juniata College, and earned a dual Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Exercise Science from Colorado State University. She earned her Registered Dietitian certification from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Colorado State University, and is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics certification from the ADA. She also holds a PhD in Education with an emphasis in instructional design for online learning from Capella University.

In addition to serving in the US Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa, for 2-1/2 years, Ms. Koslo also worked as a cardiac rehabilitation dietitian, and at the Arizona Department of Health Services as the chronic disease nutritionist.  She is also an American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer. 

Kaplan Higher Education Corporation is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

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