You’ve probably heard at some point that almonds are pretty darn good for you. Among other things, they can help lower your blood pressure, fill you up, provide you with plenty of fibre and protein, and can easily be stashed in your bag for a snack. Now, there’s a couple of more reasons to consider developing an almond habit: It may help your jeans fit better.
A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found a link between daily almond consumption and weight loss, specifically belly fat.
That said, there are a lot of people who find themselves polishing off half a bag at their desk without even noticing. Probably not a recipe for a smaller waistline.
For the study, researchers followed 86 overweight or obese people on calorie-restricted diets for 12 weeks. Some of the participants ate 35 grams of dry-roasted, lightly salted almonds per day and the other group was on a nut-free diet. The researchers found that those who noshed on almonds lost more total fat and belly fat than those who didn’t.
It’s not totally shocking that almonds might help people lose weight—they have a lot of hunger-fighting protein and super-satisfying monounsaturated fat, both of which have been found to help with weight loss. (A quarter of a cup of almonds has six grams of protein and nine grams of monounsaturated fat.) But the belly fat part is kind of mind-blowing.
According to the study, almond eaters lost more than 1 percent of their belly fat, while their almond-free counterparts lost less than half of a percent.
Researchers say that belly-blasting bonus might have something to do with the almonds’ high unsaturated fat content. “Unsaturated fats have high fat oxidation rates that can preferentially reduce visceral fat,” the study authors write.
Before you dive straight into a can of almonds, keep this in mind: People who lost weight during the study only ate 35 grams of almonds, which kept their calories in check. Plus, they were on a calorie-restricted diet, so they were bound to lose weight regardless of whether they were noshing on nuts or not.
Scientists are starting to discover that the standard way of measuring calories, established more than 100 years ago, may not be terribly accurate when it comes to higher fat, high-fiber foods like nuts. But when it comes to almonds, the count may be off by a whole lot.
Food scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published a new study that finds almonds have about 20 percent fewer calories than previously documented.
That's off by a lot more than an earlier British study showing pistachios have about 5 percent fewer calories than we thought, says USDA researcher David Baer, who worked on both studies.
"We were surprised," he says.
Baer and his colleagues compared the feces (poop, if you prefer) of people eating a controlled diet with almonds to ones who were eating a diet without any nuts. What they found was that "when people are consuming nuts, the amount of fat in the feces goes up," Bear says. "And that suggests that we're not absorbing all the fat or calories that's in the nut."
In essence, the fat in the feces shows there's a disconnect between the gross energy found in an almond and the energy our bodies actually absorb.
So what does this mean for the almond lovers among us? It's not a license to overindulge. But perhaps this energy dense, satiating snack will be more appealing to people scared off by the calorie count.
And, here's another tip. How you eat a nut, it seems, can make a difference. One important factor is chewing.
Baer explains that lots of the the nutrients are trapped inside the plant's cell walls. "So by chewing you can fracture the cell wall and get access to the fat that's stored inside the cell."
Needless to say, the Almond Board of California is pretty excited about the calorie study. It has not directly petitioned the federal government to adjust the official USDA calorie database, but the group is talking informally with federal officials, Almond Board's Chief Scientific Officer Karen Lapsley tells The Salt.
"If we can improve the information that's on a food label, I think everybody is better off," Lapsley says.
So, is it just almonds that may need a new calorie count? Or are all nuts up for a calorie review? Well, scientists have also recalculated calorie estimates for other nuts. In previous studies he found the number of calories in walnuts was 21 percent less than the standard used for labeling; for pistachios, it was 5 percent less.
30 grams = 23 Almonds
So nuts are healthier and have less calories than we thought. And if you’re looking to lose a little off of your midsection, it’s probably not a bad idea to work almonds into your healthy eating plan.