Snacking on Nuts Can Help Maintain Healthy Weight

Public Domain. Unsplash / Jenn Kosar

Researchers have found that adults who munch on nuts tend to gain less weight as they age.

Three years ago we ran a story titled '5 ways a handful of nuts can save your life.' After describing the many ways in which nuts boost health, writer Melissa finished it off with a bonus number 6: "Reduced risk of obesity... which means feeling and looking better while you enjoy your longer life."

That bonus statement has now been explored in greater depth by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University T H Chan School of Public Health in Boston. They analyzed the association between total consumption of nuts, intake of different kinds of nuts (including peanuts), and how this affects long-term weight gain. The results were published in the BMJ.

As Americans age, they gain an extra pound of weight annually on average. What this research showed is that, by adding a handful of nuts to one's daily diet – say, 12 almonds or 10 walnut halves – less weight gain occurs and there is lower risk of obesity. From NPR's The Salt,

"The people who most consistently ate nuts gained, on average, about half a pound a year, while those who ate nuts only now and then gained, on average, about one pound each year. That may not sound like a big difference, but [study co-author Deirdre] Tobias says, 'Those half-pounds add up over time.'"

There are a couple factors at play. When people start snacking on nuts, their diets become healthier overall. They eat fewer processed, fatty, and sugary foods. The protein and fiber in nuts also tend to fill people up, leaving them satisfied for longer and less susceptible to cravings. The very act of chewing may also act as a deterrent from eating too many nuts because they take more work to consume than other snack foods.

With obesity afflicting so much of the U.S. population, finding useful little dietary hacks can make a notable difference. The great thing about nuts is that they rarely feel like a tradeoff; most people, including kids, are happy to munch on them, and it doesn't seem as though you're sacrificing flavor and satisfaction in the process.

The researchers also point to the environmental benefits of turning people on to plant-based sources of protein, saying it "may contribute to the promotion of a global sustainable food system." But not all nuts are created equal when it comes to environmental footprint; some crops use more water than others and are grown in dry regions that require significant irrigation, so it's worth doing some research into less-water-intensive crops. Start here, with a guide to '5 nuts not grown in California.'