If you read the fitness magazines, typically there are at least two or three articles touting the benefits of consuming nuts as part of your regular regimen. As with most discussions, there are two sides and each has a valid point. On the one hand they offer far more nutritional value than things like cupcakes, cookies, chips, and pretzels. On the other side of the coin, if you eat too many nuts in a sitting you can rack up a ton of calories for your daily consumption. In this article Michael Moss discusses the pros and cons of utilizing nuts as a staple in your nutritional lifestyle.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — “Here are the nuts,” said Drew Sayer, a graduate student in nutrition science, before shoving me into themachine, flat on my back. “Chew them. Swallow them. And don’t move your head.”
I moved my head, which blurred the resulting images. But if all goes well in the coming weeks, researchers here atwill have stacks of brain scans with crystal-clear views inside the minds of their test subjects — while they were eating nuts. These images could help answer a timely question: Do nuts really merit the hype they’ve been getting as a guilt-free indulgence?
The reports about their many benefits have come thick and fast: studies finding that people who eat nuts (tree nuts like cashews, almonds and pistachios, along with their legume pal, the peanut) live longer and healthier lives, with less risk of chronic ailments like heart disease, respiratory problems and Type 2 diabetes.
But perhaps the most startling news is that nuts may help in maintaining a healthy weight. Research has found that people can snack on modest amounts of them without gaining pounds, and that nuts can even help in slimming down.
This dieting power is particularly hard to fathom when you consider that nuts pack 160 to 200 calories in each tiny ounce, not even a handful. And most of those calories come from fat. Ounce for ounce, cashews and pecans and walnuts are loaded with more calories than many of the processed foods being blamed for the surge in. In the conventional wisdom, a dieter’s best friends are watery foods like celery and carrot sticks.
One of the country’s leading nutrition scientists, Richard Mattes of Purdue, has been exploring this seeming paradox and has some intriguing, if still uncertain, findings.
His current work on nuts is being funded by a marketing group, the Almond Board of California, which would normally raise concerns about bias. But Dr. Mattes has a record of biting the hands that feed science, and challenging presumptions about nutrition.
At a Philadelphia research center that gets some of its operating money from processed-food companies, he published a paper in 1991 showing that that industry, not the salt shakers on dinner tables, was largely responsible for the country’s vast consumption of sodium. He also helped establish that people are less able to detect calories in soda and other drinks than in solid foods, and so are less apt to put the brakes on overconsumption.
Nuts have several big things going for them, Dr. Mattes said. For starters, even a small amount can make you feel full. Scientists call this feeling satiety; it is a busy field in food research and marketing these days, given the way that snacking has become a sort of fourth meal, adding an estimated 580 calories to the average person’s daily consumption.
Why do nuts appease the appetite so well? Dr. Mattes pointed to several studies.
“They’re high in protein, and protein is satiating,” he said. “They’re high in fiber, and fiber is satiating. They’re rich in unsaturated fats, and there is some literature that suggests that has satiety value. They’re crunchy, and that would suggest just the mechanical aspect of chewing generates a satiety signal.”
Snacking on nuts makes it likely that you will eat less later in the same day, according to some research. That decrease in consumption can make up for many of the nuts’ calories — as much as three-fourths of them, studies have shown.
Nuts are also resistant to digestion, thanks to the tough walls of their cells. As much as one-fifth of the fat in nuts never gets absorbed by the body, Dr. Mattes estimated in a 2008 paper published by The Journal of Nutrition. He noted some weaker evidence that nuts may cause people to burn a little more energy as they simply sit around.
Even the fat that the body absorbs from nuts tends to be virtuous. It’s mostly unsaturated fat, with lesser amounts of the saturated type whose excessive consumption has been associated with heart disease.
But even the best foods come with caveats, and nuts have several to consider. Their high fat content generates the powerful allure that food scientists call mouth feel, making it tempting to wolf down a lot of them. Two cups of mixed nuts can pack 1,600 calories.
“When I travel, I take nuts,” said Barbara Rolls, director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State and the author of “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet.” “They’re compact and energy-dense, great when you’re stuck on a runway for hours. But I do find them easy to overeat.”
As with many things in a person’s nutritional protocol, any item consumed in moderation is alright to eat from time to time. Too much of anything can cause problems for an individual. When in doubt, choose “Balance and Moderation”.