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Regular eating of a handful of almonds, nuts, peanuts or any kind of nuts can help prevent overweight and even lower risk of obesity, new research suggests.
It may be that substituting healthy nuts for unhealthy snacks is a simple strategy to prevent the gradual weight gain that often accompanies aging, according to researchers. Nuts also help us feel fuller for longer, which can offset the craving for junk food.
Researchers looked at the diet and weight of more than 280,000 adults participating in three long-term studies. For more than 20 years of monitoring, participants were asked every four years about their weight and, among other things, how often they ate a portion (about one ounce) of kernels in the previous year.
On average, US adults gain weight each year, according to researcher and epidemiologist Deirdre Tobias, co-author of a new study that appears in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health . "We wanted to find out if nuts were related to long-term weight gain," says Tobias, who is at Brigham and Boston Women's Hospital. Tobias and her colleagues suggested that nuts may be beneficial, given the association of nuts with a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Researchers have found that nuts are a regular part of the diet with less long-term weight gain and a lower risk of obesity. The people who most eat nuts earn an average of about half a kilo per year, while those who eat nuts only now and then pick up an average of about a kilo each year. That may not sound like much of a difference, but Tobias says, "Those half kilograms accumulate over time." that is about a dozen almonds or maybe 10 walnuts.
Analyzing data on participants' diets, researchers were able to see that as nuts become a more regular part of people's diets, their unhealthy food consumption decreases, including foods such as processed meats, refined beans, and desserts such as chocolates, sweets , pies and donuts.
"When you increase nuts at the expense of these other snack foods, there is even greater benefit," says Tobias. A constant intake of nuts of at least half an ounce per day is associated with a 23% lower risk of weight gain of 10 pounds or obesity over a four year period.
But the role of nuts in weight maintenance goes beyond merely acting as a substitute for sweets. "Nuts have protein in them that helps us feel fuller longer, and fiber that helps fill us," said Libby Mills, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And because nuts are high in healthy fats, Mills says, they take a lot more time to digest from carbohydrates and proteins, and that can also 'make us feel fuller longer.
As a registered nutritionist, Mills says most of her clients are striving to lose weight. They "love nuts," she says, so news is welcome for them. "They find an easy and comfortable snack to keep on their desk, maybe individually packaged, packed in a bag or gym bag, so they're always super comfortable and perfect for people on the go."
So the next time you find yourself craving something between meals, the home-made message here is clear: Go for the nuts – not the cookies.
And here's another added benefit: The habit of nuts is beneficial to the planet, researchers say. "In addition to the impact on human health, the use of environmentally friendly plant proteins, such as nuts and seeds, to replace animal protein sources can help promote a globally sustainable food system," they write.