Go Nuts on Your Diet!

Peanuts, almonds and more are good -- and good for you

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Many weight-conscious people shudder at the idea of nuts as part of a healthy diet. For years, dieters have shunned nuts because of their high fat content. Well, you can forget everything you ever heard about nuts, and delight in knowing they are now considered health food! The key to including the great taste of nuts in a healthy diet without overdoing the fat and calories is portion control.

Even the government is leaning toward allowing a health claim on food packages touting the nutritious benefits of nuts. The Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing a proposal that would allow foods containing nuts to carry this label: "Diets containing one ounce of nuts per day can reduce your risk of heart disease."

An Ounce of Prevention

Several studies over the past several years have shown the health benefits of nuts -- which contain monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, protein, and fiber, and are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals.

They are a powerhouse of good nutrition that can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease. They've also been shown to play an important role in helping to lower "bad" cholesterol levels and raise "good" cholesterol levels. In addition, they can help dilate blood vessels and prevent hardening of the arteries.

In the Nurses Health Study, which followed 86,016 nurses for 14 years, found those who ate 5 ounces or more of nuts per week reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by 35%. The researchers also noted that the nut-eaters tended to weigh less than the nurses who did not eat nuts.

Dieter's Dream Come True

To find a food that is delicious, nutritious and filling is a dieter's dream come true. Dieters who eat nuts tend to stick to their diets because the fat and fiber content of nuts makes them very filling. As a result, they are not as hungry and ultimately eat less.

Several studies have found that eating small amounts of nuts helps dieters lose weight. One psychological benefit noted in a study done by Pennsylvania State researchers was that dieters did not feel like they were dieting when nuts were allowed in their eating plans -- which helped them stay on their diets longer.

So here's some food for thought for all our WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Are nuts in your eating plan? If not, consider creating a new plan and indicate your preference for nuts or peanut butter on the questionnaire. This will result in an eating plan that includes nuts without extra calories.

Nuts might be considered health food, but that's not a license to overindulge. When you add nuts to your diet, you add calories along with the health benefits. So it's important to decrease calories from other sources to avoid weight gain. Our program prescribes nuts within the context of a healthy diet to give you the health benefits without the extra calories.

A one-ounce serving of nuts contains between 160 and 200 calories, most of which come from the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Nuts are also very high in dietary fiber, and are one of the best plant sources of protein.

Most nuts are consumed on their own, by the handful, which can be dangerous. This is the kind of food that often leads to "eating amnesia" --- hand to mouth without much thought -- and can easily lead to consuming lots of extra calories.

Avoid mindless eating by pre-portioning your nuts in small bags for a great snack to take on the go or to the office. Choose nuts in the shell and you'll probably eat fewer since it takes time to crack them. Or take one handful and put the package away.

Your goal is to eat nuts instead of other sources of fat like cakes, cookies, or chips. You won't feel deprived when you top your apple or celery slices with peanut butter!

"Nuts are very high in dietary fiber, and are one of the best plant sources of protein"

Here are some ways to add healthy "nut" fat to your diet:

  • Top hot or cold cereal with nuts for a nourishing breakfast.
  • Sprinkle almonds on top of yogurt.
  • Add peanuts to nonfat frozen yogurt.
  • Use fat-free salad dressing and add nuts to your salads.
  • Use nuts to replace croutons in salads or soups.
  • Bring pasta to life by sprinkling it with chopped nuts.
  • Remember that slivered almonds do wonders with everything from chicken to desserts.
  • Add nuts to bread, pancakes, waffles, or muffins.
  • Mix nuts into lite cream cheese for a delicious spread.
  • Add nuts to popcorn for a tasty snack.
  • Add great flavor to steamed veggies with a handful of nuts.
  • Toast nuts to enhance the flavor. Bake for 5-10 minutes in a 350-degree oven

How Calories in Nuts Add Up

A small handful of nuts is about 1 ounce. Here's how many calories that will add up to for various types of nuts:

Dry roasted peanuts, regular (30 nuts) 170
Dry roasted peanuts, unsalted (30 nuts) 160
Cocktail peanuts (30 nuts) 170
Honey-roasted peanuts (30) 150
Almonds (24) 160
Brazil nuts (7) 170
Cashews (20) 170
Walnuts (14) 180
Pistachios, shelled (47) 170
Pecans (20 halves) 190
Macadamia nuts (11) 200

Eating as little as one ounce of nuts per day can provide you with all the health benefits. So do it, go nuts!

Published May 20, 2003.



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