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Nuts may boost weight loss

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Online weight-loss coach Andrew Cate looks at how to take advantage of the weight-loss properties of nuts.

Nuts and your health
While high in fat and kilojoules, nuts and seeds also have a number of nutritional and health benefits. They are high in protein and fibre - giving them a low glycaemic index, they're a good source of vitamin E, rich in minerals, including magnesium and folate and contain phytochemicals.

Nuts and seeds are also low in saturated fats but rich in essential fatty acids -the types of fats that help promote heart health. Their role in weight control has also been investigated.

The research
A review paper published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of nut consumption on weight. Studies found that the inclusion of nuts in the diet had limited impact on weight gain. The researchers identified three ways that nuts may assist weight management:

  1. They fill you up - The high protein and fibre content of nuts results in strong satiety effects, helping you to feel full. This reduces your kilojoule intake later in the day, and is known to offset some or all of the kilojoules provided by the nuts. One study where subjects ate almonds as part of their diet found that 74% of the almond’s kilojoule content was offset by reductions in the intake of other foods.
  2. They boost your metabolic rate - Nut consumption may increase energy expenditure (metabolism) and may help the body naturally burn off a portion of the kilojoules that nuts provide. For example, the same study on eating almonds mentioned above reported an increased daily energy expenditure that would account for roughly 14% of the almond’s kilojoule content.
  3. Not all the kilojoules in nuts are absorbed - There may be inefficiencies in the absorption of kilojoules from nuts, because some of the food is excreted (especially if it is not well chewed). It means the actual amount of kilojoules consumed from nuts may well be less than what nutrition information tables indicate. For example, in reference to the same almond study, faecal loss accounted for approximately 7% of the kilojoule content of the almonds.

Taking into account all three mechanisms, and when observing the results of the almond study, 95% of the ingested kilojoules of the nuts was accounted for in ways that would not promote weight gain. The researchers noted that some studies have shown greater weight loss on higher fat diets, including those that promote moderate nut consumption, partly due to the fact that the diet is easier to stick to. They also noted an inverse association between the frequency of nut consumption and body mass index (BMI).

Including nuts and seeds in your diet
Here are some tips on how to include nuts and seeds in your diet in a way that maximises their health and weight-management properties.

  • Because of their high kilojoule content, it's important to watch your portion size of nuts and seeds. Aim for a small handful (approximately a quarter of a cup) 4 – 5 times per week. Use small zip lock bags for portion control and easy transport.
  • Stick to raw and dry roasted nuts. Roasting nuts in oil, sprinkling them with salt, or covering them with chocolate or sugar may negate many of their health benefits.
  • Try to eat a wide variety of different nuts such as cashews, pecans, pine, pistachios, macadamias, Brazil, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, chestnuts and peanuts (although technically peanuts are a legume!).
  • Some of the seeds you can add to your diet include pumpkin, sesame, linseed, sunflower, and poppy.
  • LSA (which stands for linseeds, sunflower kernels and almonds) is a ground mix of all three ingredients. Both LSA and other ground nuts can be stirred into a number of recipes such as dukkah, pancakes or muffins, or mixed with herbs and used as a coating for baked chicken or fish.
  • Nuts and seeds are delicious in stir-fries, soups, salads, smoothies, casseroles, breakfast cereal and yoghurt.
  • Nuts and seeds are the ideal snack food, helping to fill you up between meals.
  • Nuts and seeds are a great complementary ingredient to high-carbohydrate foods. Adding nuts to cereal grains (ie almonds in your muesli) or nut butters to bread will reduce the overall GI of that meal or snack, reducing the impact of those starchy foods on blood sugar levels. 

To maximise the nutrient value of nuts, it may be best to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This is because the delicate oils in nuts can become rancid easily (producing free radicals). For this reason, it may also be best to purchase nuts in small quantities to guarantee freshness. In addition, chopped nuts deteriorate much quicker than whole nuts. 

References available on request