Should you snack on nuts to lose weight?

“Just a handful of nuts may help keep us from packing on the pounds as we age,” reported National Public Radio in 2019.

NPR’s piece was triggered by a study in which researchers (some partly funded by the nut industry) followed nearly 145,000 people for 20 to 24 years. Compared to those who didn’t eat nuts, those who ate at least half an ounce of nuts a day (the equivalent of about 12 almonds) had a 23 percent lower risk of gaining roughly 10 pounds over any given four-year period.

Why look at nuts and weight?

“People think nuts are fattening because they’re high in fat,” explains Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. That may lead people to avoid them.

Enter the nut industry.

“In general, nut-industry groups fund studies to demonstrate that their nuts have health benefits, which can increase the market share of the type of nut they grow,” says Nestle.

The key question: What happens in studies that randomly assign people to either eat or not eat nuts?

In most—they’re typically funded by the nut industry—the nut eaters don’t gain weight, likely because they compensate by eating less of something else.

And nearly every study that randomly assigns dieters to eat or not eat nuts as part of a low-calorie diet finds little or no difference in weight lost between the groups.

For example, in a study funded by the American Pistachio Growers, 96 adults with overweight or obesity were instructed to eat a low-calorie diet that included 1½ oz. of pistachios (about 75 nuts) every day or a nut-free diet with the same number of calories. After four months, each group had lost about 10 pounds.

But that didn’t stop the pistachio growers trade association from declaring on its website, “Study shows pistachios may be helpful in a weight loss plan.”

“This is an instance of interpretation bias, a common problem in industry-funded research,” Nestle explains.

“Though the study found no difference in weight loss between the groups that did or did not eat nuts, the results are interpreted as favorable to nuts.”

Bottom Line: Nuts are unlikely to have much impact on your weight. Just keep your serving sizes in check.

Photo: stock.adobe.com/New Africa.

The information in this post first appeared in the December 2020 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.


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