Are nuts healthful? Or are they leading you towards inflammation and obesity?
Everyone has a different opinion on this matter and the answer depends on who you ask. Let me give you a few examples.
If you ask someone trying to lose weight conventionally (with calorie counting), they’ll probably tell you to avoid nuts because nuts are “fattening”. Yes they contain fat (good fats, by the way) and are high in calories. But that isn’t enough for nuts to make you gain weight. Gaining weight and becoming obese is much more complex! Eating nuts in moderation won’t make you pile on the pounds and the science definitely does not support this view.
Now, if you ask hard-core paleo followers, they will tell you that many nuts have too many omega-6 fatty acids and this can skew your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. This, in turn, will lead to inflammation and eventually disease. Hold on. That’s a rather simplistic way of looking at a whole food. Nut oil or vegetable oil that is refined and heated to high temperatures will most likely cause inflammation, but can we really say the same for whole nuts in moderation? Not really. The science doesn’t support this view.
Nuts actually reduce inflammation according to many recent studies (see below).
Lastly, if you ask raw vegans what they think about nuts, they might tell you that they can’t possibly live without nuts and eat copious amounts daily. In fact, almost all raw vegan desserts have some sort of nut or seed ingredient in them! Are they right? Possibly, but they might also be overdoing it just a bit.
Based on the current science, it seems that nuts are a healthy choice for most people if they can tolerate them. But does that mean we can go overboard? Probably not. As with any food, it’s about eating the right amount. Not too much and not too little.
1. Nuts may actually help you lose or maintain your weight.
Yes, nuts have fats and are high in calories, but did you know that the human body can’t actually absorb all of the fat and calories? In one study , it was found that we absorb 30% fewer calories from almonds than what is listed on the food labels. What? Yes, you read that right – 30% lower! Why is that the case? Probably because nuts have cell walls that prevent the entire nut from being fully digested.
Now that we know that nuts aren’t as calorific as we think they are, let’s talk a bit about the studies done on nuts and body weight.
In a 2009 study , the researchers found that women eating more nuts did not have higher body weights.
Tree nuts appear to have strong inverse association with obesity.
What does that mean? The more nuts people ate in that study, the lower their risk of obesity!
So there you have it. Nuts won’t make you pile on the pounds as long as you’re eating them reasonably, of course.
2. Nuts can lower “bad” cholesterol and improve heart health
Cholesterol is often linked to heart health, although it’s not that simple. Heart disease is more than just cholesterol. It’s also about inflammation. Did you know that nuts can help with both the cholesterol and inflammation?
As I mentioned earlier, heart disease is not just about cholesterol readings. There are other inflammation markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP) that can help determine a person’s risk of heart disease and nuts can help bring that number down too. In one study from 2016 , scientists found that frequent nut consumption was associated with lower CRP levels. In other words, a LOWER risk of heart disease.
If you have high cholesterol or are at risk of heart disease, it might be worthwhile to eat nuts regularly.
3. Nuts can reduce your risk of diabetes and reduce high blood sugar levels.
Do you have diabetes or does diabetes run in your family? Might be worthwhile to add nuts to your meals.
The protein and fats from nuts can blunt the blood sugar response and in several studies, higher nut consumption has been linked to a lower risk of diabetes and better blood sugar control [16,17,18,19,20].
4. Nuts can reduce inflammation.
You’ve probably heard that chronic inflammation can cause all sorts of different diseases. What can we do to reduce inflammation? Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies is definitely the way to go, but nuts can also lend a helping hand.
In many recent studies [21,22,23,24,25,26], nuts have been shown to reduce the levels of inflammation. This is especially important for diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as these illnesses have been linked to chronic inflammation.
In a recent Mediterranean diet study , participants ate 30g of nuts/day (about 1 oz.) for a full year and saw a 35% decrease in one inflammatory biomarker (C-reactive protein) and a 90% decrease in another inflammatory bio-marker (interleukin-6)! That’s an impressive reduction in inflammation.
So to all those that are worried about their omega-6 intake from nuts causing inflammation – stop worrying. As long as you’re eating a balanced diet and not bingeing on the nuts, you probably have nothing to worry about. Study after study shows that nuts REDUCE inflammation.
So how much can you eat? Seems like 1 oz is a good amount (based on that Mediterranean study I talked about earlier).
5. Nuts can lower blood pressure.
Nuts have been found to lower high blood pressure slightly in several studies [28,29,30,31]. If you have high blood pressure, try incorporating nuts (particularly pistachios as they seem to have the most effect on blood pressure), into your diet and see if it makes a difference for you.
So there you have it – nuts are definitely healthy if you can tolerate them well and don’t have any digestive/auto-immune disturbances/allergies. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t go overboard.
As with anything, eat reasonable amounts. For nuts, that would be an ounce a day – not a whole bag of nuts!
What do I do? 1 ounce daily of unroasted and unsalted nuts/seeds. The key is unroasted. Roasting damages the delicate fats in the nuts and you don’t want that. And one more thing. I generally avoid almond flour and go easy on the nut butters because those are easier to overdo. If you feel like you’re getting a bit addicted to almond butter, it’s time to go back to eating plain almonds. 🙂