It May Seem Nutty

May 15, 2012 in Diabetes Management, fiber, Mediterranean, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

If you’ve been watching your waistline, you may look at nuts and think: “BEWARE,” because you know that nuts are a calorie dense, loaded with fat, food; but you may be pleasantly surprised to learn what nuts can do for you. One of the biggest surprises is that the latest research tells us that nuts actually help us with weight management, diabetes management and health management.

Maybe Stone Age man was pretty smart, as he and she were running around eating plenty of nuts. We modern folks haven’t spent much effort in learning about nuts. What we did notice is that the Mediterranean people (you know, those people we based the “Mediterranean Diet” on) enjoyed nuts. Since the Mediterraneans were so healthy, we’ve begun to consider the inclusion of nuts and what they have to offer – helping to keep our waistlines in shape, our hearts healthy, fighting diabetes, and protecting us from various other modern diseases.

Impact of nuts on overweight and diabetes

Overweight, obesity and their closely followed disease, diabetes don’t appear to be winding down any time soon. Many people have learned about the ugly results of the obesity/diabetes pathway. In short, having too much sugar in your blood drives that sugar to bind with proteins, lipids, and other molecules in our cells. When this happens, it creates Advanced Glycation End Products – AGEs. Unfortunately, when the sugar binds with the various cell structures forming AGEs, those cells can’t do what they are supposed to do – the results are damage in the kidney, damage in the heart and blood vessels, damage in the eyes, and damage in nerves. None of this is good news or new news; but what is news is there is some first-line attack information to take advantage of and nuts are right on the front line.

How nuts can help with weight management and protection from diabetes

  • Nuts cause a lower rise in glucose after we eat a meal. After eating, our blood sugar rises from the meal; but with nuts the rise has been found to be less, and in an important way. The amount of blood sugar after meals is very accurate in predicting negative cardiovascular endpoints.  Remember that the number one cause of death in diabetics is heart disease. The take away is that sprinkling some sliced almonds or chopped cashews on your cereal can slow the rise of the ‘after meal’ blood sugar. That’s important good news!
  • Not only can nuts slow the rise in blood sugar, but in addition, nuts lead to compensation in eating at the next meal. You may want to consider having a few nuts with fruit for your afternoon snack; your pleasant discovery may be that you eat less for dinner. This is being called the second meal effect. Just compare that with drinking a sugary soda, where it doesn’t reduce your hunger.
  • Nuts are champions at providing increased satiety. When you’re having a strong drive to eat (e.g. a snack attack) try a few nuts. In my personal experience, nothing can help me end the feeling that I want to eat whatever I find, than a few nuts.
  • Although nuts have about 175 calories per ounce, people who eat nuts more frequently don’t weigh more. In a 2011 Harvard study, an actual inverse relationship between nuts and weight gain was found – people who ate nuts gained less weight. Nuts are the number 2 food linked to weight loss. (Yogurt is number one.)
  • A separate supportive issue is that weight loss plans that allow nuts have greater compliance and better results. They satisfy and they taste good.
  • How does that work? There are two possible answers. One is that people may lower the intake of other foods, when nuts are included. And, second, all the calories may not be absorbed. I listened to a webinar recently, where a Purdue professor said that only about 80% of the calories of nuts are utilized.  Tufts’ Blumberg says, “A significant amount of the fat in almonds is not bioaccessible – released from the food matrix, a prerequisite step before absorption – and so does not contribute to actual calorie intake as much as would be calculated.

Why do nuts damper the rise in blood sugar and offer so much satisfaction?

  • Really, science is not finished with the answer yet. But there are some good logical guesses based on what research is available.
  • Because nuts are high in fat, protein and fiber, that’s where the answers are starting. Fiber slows down the process of digestion, which is really good if you want to stay satisfied for a longer period of time. Fat is the slowest of the macronutrients in our food to be digested – it hangs in there. And protein has been shining in the halls of biological research to be great at delivering satiety – protein helps manage appetite.
  • Another idea is that nuts are solid food. We know from research that liquids do not satisfy the hunger mechanism the way solid foods do.
  • But the interesting thing is that the real whole food (actual nuts that grow on a tree) is what’s delivering the results. So try something straight from nature (nuts) and forget whatever concoction the food processors provide. Let’s not try to take nuts apart (in the crafty spirit of nutritionism) to pluck out this type of nutrient or that to make something that nature does so nicely for us.

Note: Peanuts grow in the ground and are legumes (peas and beans family), but they can be grouped with tree nuts. The nutrients are quite similar. That’s good news because peanuts are really a cost effective option.

The Impressive Nutritional benefits of nuts:

  • Vitamin E – Most Americans don’t get enough vitamin E, which is involved with keeping our immune system healthy and protecting our cells from oxidative damage. Nuts are one of the best ways to solve this problem.
  • Magnesium is another nutrient where our American diet falls short. Since low magnesium intake is linked with increased risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes and stroke, you may want to consider including almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts in your menus.
  • Polyphenols in nuts slows the absorption of sugar and delays gastric emptying.
  • Nuts may benefit the gallbladder; reduce the risk of breast cancer; reduce the risk of colon cancer; and improve cognitive health.
  • Nuts can blunt the effects of carbohydrate release.
  • Nuts can have a strong compensatory response – you eat less throughout the day when you snack on nuts. (Second meal effect)
  • Nuts help us maintain better blood sugar levels over large portions of the day.
  • Protein and Fiber are useful in weight management; so it follows that nuts, loaded with these nutrients, provide their benefits.


  • Nut consumption can help moderate blood glucose and appetite.
  • Nuts may have a stronger effect on appetite and blood sugar than other food forms.
  • Nuts are definitely a useful snack option.
  • Nuts are a healthy source of fat, protein, and fiber for health outcomes.
  • The true energy may be only 80% of what’s on the label – there may be a decrease in the bioavailability of calories that actually get burned – yippee!

All nuts are good; although there are differences they all are rich in good fats, protein, fiber and vitamin E and low in carbs. Chestnuts are an exception; although chestnuts are tree nuts they contain different micronutrients than other nuts and they have more starch and less fat.

Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts all have FDA approval to use the statement; “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces (42 grams) per day of most nuts, such as [those at the beginning of this sentence], as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” The way that nuts reduce the risk of heart disease has been linked to the healthy ratio of the fats. The mono- polyunsaturated, omega3s and omega 6s are all higher and the saturated fats are lower. But the benefits of eating nuts is in reality, much better than just the healthy mixture of fatty acids. Tufts University quotes Penn State scientists saying; “Tree nuts can be an important part of a blood cholesterol-lowering diet that elicits a maximal effect attainable by diet that is comparable to low-dose statin therapy.”


  • Measure a given amount of nuts (say 3 tablespoons or ¼ cup) into a little zip bag to keep fresh and in your briefcase, purse, desk drawer, or snack cabinet at home. When you’re out driving around, you’ve got a snack to keep you safe from grabbing a candy bar, cookies, a bag of chips or a gulp of sugary soda.
  • Instead of croutons on your salad, how about some pine nuts, peanuts or other tree nuts. Store croutons often have undesirable fats and are usually made from white flour.
  • Stir-fries are another place to sprinkle on some nuts – you may find that you’re satisfied with less meat.
  • Breakfast is a perfect opportunity to start your weight management strategy and appetite control for the day. If you stay satisfied longer, you will be less prone to snacking.
  • Sliced almonds on cereal is a standard breakfast fare – yum!
  • Make a pesto sauce with greens (basil or spinach) and nuts (often walnuts or pine nuts), add a little garlic if desired and discover how much more yummy good health you can have instead of creamy or cheesy sauces.

So enjoy the health benefits of nuts; the flavors are wonderful – you don’t need to be living in the Stone Age to benefit from nuts.