Are Nuts All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

Nut companies are, um, going nuts. Labels, ads, and websites promise that nuts will make you more powerful, energetic, and slimmer, and protect your heart. Here’s how to sort through the claims.

Are Nuts Calorie Smart?Pistachios ad

“Watch your figure,” says the text next to a bowl of 49 pistachios in the Wonderful Pistachios ad. “Watch your backside,” says the text next to a bowl of 13 tortilla chips.

“For the same calories, you get a lot more pistachios than flavored tortilla chips,” says the smaller print. (Each has 160 calories.)

“If you’re watching your waistline, almonds may be the key to tipping the scales in your favor,” says the Almond Board of California.

In most studies, people who are told to eat a serving of nuts each day don’t gain weight. But that’s because they compensate by eating less of something else, not because nuts magically prevent weight gain.

To really tip the scales in your favor, make fruit or veggies your go-to snack. A half cup of blueberries has 40 calories; a half cup of grape tomatoes has 25.

Nuts are calorie dense, so you have to keep track of how much you’re munching. A 1 oz. serving is about 20 almonds, cashews, or pecan halves. A 1 oz. serving of pistachios is about 49.

Just beware: What looks like a single-serve bag may have 2 to 3 servings. A small non-resealable pouch of Frito-Lay Deluxe Mixed Nuts, for example, holds 2¾ oz….and delivers 470 calories.

Do Nuts Give You Energy?Almonds ad

Pistachios “help maintain endurance for every finish line,” says the American Pistachio Growers ad.

“Power to dig a little deeper,” says the National Peanut Board ad.

“Power to keep you rolling right along,” says the Almond Board of California ad. “Energize your day with the crunch of almonds.”

“Power” is the new “energy.” Ignore them both. When either appears on a food label, it just means “calories”…and nuts have plenty of those.

You might get a little boost from Blue Diamond Oven Roasted Café Mocha Almonds. But that’s because Blue Diamond adds caffeine (“as much caffeine as ¼ cup of coffee,” notes the label). It has nuttin’ to do with nuts.

Do Nuts Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease?Peanuts ad

“Put your hand over your heart,” says Mr. Peanut in the Planters TV ad. “Is it beating? Good! Then my NUT-rition Heart Healthy Mix is for you.”

Will eating nuts lower your risk of heart disease? Almonds and walnuts are the best studied, but most nuts and seeds should help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. That’s largely because they have considerably more LDL-lowering polyunsaturated fats than LDL-raising saturated fats, although other constituents, like plant sterols, may also help lower LDL.

Note: three nuts—Brazil nuts, cashews, and macadamias—have less polys or more sat fat or both.

It’s not just LDL. In 2013, the PREDIMED study reported that Spaniards who ate 120 calories a day of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts) for nearly five years had 30 percent fewer cardiovascular “events,” especially strokes. The study was stopped early, so it’s not a slam dunk.

Still, lowering LDL is reason enough to add nuts to your diet—as long as you eat them instead of foods that are rich in saturated fat, sugar, or white flour.

Source: N. Engl. J. Med. 368: 1279, 1353, 2013.

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2 Replies to “Are Nuts All They’re Cracked Up to Be?”

  1. “In 2013, the PREDIMED study reported that Spaniards who ate 120 calories a day of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts) for nearly five years had 30 percent fewer cardiovascular “events,” especially strokes. The study was stopped early, so it’s not a slam dunk.”

    And why was the study stopped early? Because the difference between the intervention groups (including those who ate nuts) and the control group reached statistical significance in favor of those eating nuts, that’s why!

    To use your basketball analogy, it may not have been a slam dunk, but it was an outside shot with nothing but net – worth 2 points no matter how you look at it.

  2. Another comment on the nuts. I ate several handfuls/day just to test whether it would add much weight….wrong! Lost a couple lbs. so no debate there. I tend to put on weight really fast, but the nuts didn’t do it for me…I lost!!!

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