Weight Loss Without Cutting Calories? That’s Nuts

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There's a cheap and easy way to keep your waist trim and protect your heart.

For years, health experts have said that no matter what you do to lose weight, success boils down to a calorie equation: If you don’t burn more calories than you consume, your weight won’t budge. I’ve read that piece of advice more times than I can count.

But recent research shows that the quality of your calories is just as important as the quantity. In other words, some foods can help you keep your weight down better than others – with the same amount of calories.

Nuts are a perfect (and relatively cheap) example. We’ve long known that nuts are high in fat and therefore calories. But as Consumer Reports declared last month…

Evidence almost unanimously shows that people who consume nuts more frequently weigh less than people who don’t.

Nuts are satiating, which means nut eaters feel fuller and might eat less food at other times. Also, people tend not to chew nuts thoroughly, so 5 to 15 percent of their fat content isn’t absorbed by the body.

Added benefits

There’s also “very strong evidence,” Consumer Reports says, that regularly eating nuts reduces heart disease risk factors like high LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, which the Mayo Clinic says is one of the main causes of heart disease. The Harvard School of Public Health agrees…

One surprising finding from nutrition research is that people who regularly eat nuts are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who rarely eat them.

Nuts contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats like Omega-3. Plus, they’re high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients.

Where to start

How many nuts to eat: Experts recommend 1 to 1.5 ounces (a handful) of nuts a day. Just be sure to take only a handful or use a measuring cup. Like other snack foods, when you eat nuts right out of the can, it’s easy to consume more than you realize.

Which nuts to eat: From the Harvard Medical School to WebMD to the Mayo Clinic, experts seem to agree that the type of nut you eat doesn’t particularly matter. Certain nuts have higher levels of certain nutrients, though. Last year, a University of Scranton study found that walnuts have the most antioxidants. So consider a variety instead of sticking with your one favorite nut. And just be sure to read the Nutrition Facts on the container first, because some nuts have more fat than others. (The Mayo Clinic made a handy reference chart.) Consumer Reports also said that whether nuts are honey-roasted, salted, or plain, it doesn’t seem to affect their health benefits. But keep in mind that honey-roasted varieties contain more calories and salted varieties obviously contain added salt.

How to eat nuts: If you simply add nuts to your current diet, you will gain weight. As Harvard pointed out, “At 185 calories per ounce, a handful of walnuts a day could add 10 pounds or more in a year if you don’t cut back on something else.” The idea is to exchange one of the less healthy foods in your diet with nuts. In other words, you’ll consume the same number of calories a day, but more of those calories will come from nuts.

I eat nuts as a snack food so I’m not tempted by junk food. But because 80 percent of their calories come from fat, the Mayo Clinic recommends replacing unhealthier fats from meat, for example, with nuts: “Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do your heart any good.”

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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