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Nuts May Be the Key to Preventing Weight Gain—Here's How to Maximize Their Benefits

A long-term observational study finds that increasing nut intake may prevent those unwanted pounds in adults.
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Obesity is a growing epidemic in the U.S., with nearly 40 percent of adults having a BMI that is equal to or exceeds a BMI of 30. Keeping weight off in adulthood is a challenge, too, with the average adult gaining about a pound every year. But there might be a way to slow down the weight gain that naturally comes with aging—and nuts are the key.

See, according to Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, diabetes lifestyle expert and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, one of the primary reasons adults are more susceptible to weight gain is attributable to decreased muscle mass.

"Our muscles are where most of our calories are burned, and when muscle loss happens, unburned calories end up as fat," she says. "When we lose our lean muscle mass, our bodies require fewer calories and our metabolism slows."

The obvious way to maintain muscle mass is by strength training. However, an equally important way you can prevent muscle loss is by consuming an adequate amount of protein every day. Nuts are chock-full of protein, with almonds in particular providing a satiating 6 grams of protein per one-ounce serving.

Aside from protein content, a new observational study from researchers at Harvard University found that eating just half an ounce of nuts every day in adulthood was associated with less long-term weight gain.

RELATED: The 7-day diet that melts your belly fat fast.

What exactly did this observational study find?

Weight gain is often thought of being the consequence of eating excess calories, but there is increasing evidence that suggests the quality of diet may play just as strong of a role in long-term weight maintenance.

Researchers observed nearly 145,000 men and women, investigating the correlation between changes in nut consumption over 4-year intervals and weight change over about two decades of follow-up. While they couldn't narrow the association between increased nut consumption and weight gain prevention down to just one specific thing, Smithson says the study suggests three plausible explanations.

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  1. The high fiber content in nuts boosts satiety, which suppresses hunger.
  2. Nuts' high unsaturated fat content elevates fatty acid oxidation and increases thermogenesis and resting energy expenditure, all of which may work together to prevent weight gain.
  3. The body burns 5 to 20 percent of the calories in nuts during digestion, meaning the body actually ends up absorbing fewer calories than what's indicated on the nutrition label. Take a serving of almonds that yields 164 calories for example. After digestion, the body will only absorb about 123 of those calories.

What kind of nuts should you include more of in your diet?

The answer? Each and any one of them. Smithson says that all nuts are nutrient-rich, so whether you prefer cashews or almonds, eating half an ounce of either daily would be sufficient.

Other ways to increase nut intake would be to eat them the form of a peanut butter or a nut butter. Try adding one tablespoon of palm oil-free almond butter into your breakfast smoothie.

"This study brings good news for people looking at gaining less weight as they age," says Smithson. "Offering people a great tasting, high-in-nutrients food like almonds to help curb weight gain is a welcoming message."

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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