Does eating nuts make you fat?

Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.

Nuts are one of those ‘super foods’ that we should be talking about more often – and not for the common misconception that they cause weight gain but for the very reason that they actually help curb our waistlines. 

Yes, that’s right! Nuts are a nutrient-rich food that are not only beneficial for our health and wellbeing but also help with our battle against the bulge. 

Nuts are high in fibre, protein, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals. They are also packed with good-for-you monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. But this is the very reason we hold back on them. The F word: fat. Even though we know the fat in certain foods like nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado is good for us we still hold back because of our fear of fat.

This is because we continue to cling onto the low fat weight loss message that came out in the 1980s - despite since being dispelled. Coupled with the low fat marketing campaign that we still see on an abundance on products in supermarkets. It is a perplexing field to navigate which has only resulted in confusion.

This good source of fat, filling fibre and protein found in nuts, means your hunger is satisfied for longer when you eat them. Not only is there the increased feeling of fullness from nuts but they speed up your metabolism and you don’t absorb all the calories when you eat them – in fact 20% of the energy from nuts is not absorbed at all.

The bottom line - not all calories are equal and a lot of the calories in nuts are not absorbed in the body.

How many can you eat?

We should be eating a handful every day - at least 30 grams. This is the amount that can significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease - by up to 50% - and type 2 diabetes - by up to 27%. But 95% of Australians fail to do this.

The even better news is that research has shown that up to 3 and ½ times this quantity does not have an adverse effect on a person’s body weight when part of a dietary prescription in which nuts replace other calories. People often find themselves reducing some of the additional calories from the inclusion of nuts by displacing other foods in the diet, due to their satiating effect.

Consider these important points when adding nuts to your daily eating plan:

1. Enjoy a mixture

The health benefits relate to all of them so include a mixture of tree nuts - almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans and pistachios. You can also include peanuts which are classified as a legume and grown underground. 

2. Buy them au naturel

You often find yourself having to wade through the many varieties of roasted nuts baked in oil, sugar and salt these days to get to the natural product. These energy-dense and less nutritious versions of nuts should be avoided. Opt for unsalted varieties and those that are in their raw, natural or dry roasted form. Raw, natural and dry roasted varieties have the same nutrition without the wasted calorie addition. 

3. Be mindful

Try nuts that are still in the shell. Not only are they fun to crack and eat but you are also less likely to overeat them as the shelling process forces you to slow down and be mindful when eating. It also serves as a reality check because the amount of empty shells lets you see how many you’ve eaten. 

4. Use them in cooking

Nuts are a wonderful addition to cooking. They go well with salads and stir-fries, and they can be oven roasted with oats to make a delicious breakfast. Bake the oats and nuts on an oven tray in large batches so you can have it for breakfast throughout the week.

5. Weigh them out

The most cost-effective way to buy nuts is in bulk. To ensure you don’t mindlessly reach in and overeat, portion them out in individual containers ahead of time. Just make sure to store the larger package out of sight.

6. Beware of the ‘activated’ scam

Activated nuts are soaked in water for 24 hours and then dried out again so they’re still crisp. Despite the clever marketing there is no research that ‘activated’ nuts are better for you or better for your digestion than natural, raw or dry roasted nuts. The only change you will notice is the rise in your grocery bill with the additional pricing slapped onto these products.

The science is clear – eating a handful of nuts every day doesn’t make you fat and including them in your daily eating plan will help you achieve your weight loss goals.

About Dr Nick Fuller

Dr Nick Fuller is the founder of Interval Weight Loss and is a leading obesity expert at the University of Sydney with a Ph.D. in Obesity Treatment. Dr Fuller is also the author of three best-selling books and his work been published in top ranked journals in the medical field, including JAMA, Lancet and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.