No matter how committed and determined you are, losing weight takes hard work: meal prep, logging time at the gym, and making healthy choices for every meal, every day. But just because you’re committed to eating healthier doesn’t mean your junk food cravings go away. If your mouth still waters for cupcakes and French fries even though you’re chowing down on kale and baby carrots, there could be a secret weapon to combat these waist-widening cravings. For other ways to stay on track, check out our list of the 50 Best Weight Loss Tips.
Turns out, that secret weapon is probably already in your kitchen—walnuts. And while walnuts have a whole host of health benefits, including helping you sleep and lowering your blood pressure, it seems they have the unique ability to squash cravings for fatty food.
A study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism found that walnuts may impact the part of your brain that controls cravings. In the study, participants who were medically considered obese visited the research center on two separate five-day sessions. During one session, they drank a smoothie made with 48 grams of walnuts (about half a cup). On the other visit, the participants drank another smoothie that had a similar flavor and nutritional profile but didn’t contain walnuts. Since the study was randomized, neither the researchers nor the participants knew which smoothie was made with the walnuts.
To detect changes in the brain, researchers administered fMRI tests on the participants during the last day of the sessions. The participants were then shown images of food porn, such as hamburgers and desserts, neutral photos like flowers and rocks, and pictures of less-desirable foods like vegetables. The fMRI results showed increased activity in an area of the brain called the right insula, which is associated with control, when the participants who drank the walnut smoothies were shown pictures of the unhealthy food.
“We know there’s no ambiguity in terms of study results. When participants eat walnuts, this part of their brain lights up, and we know that’s connected with what they are telling us about feeling less hungry or more full,” said lead researcher Christos Mantzoros, MD, PhD, according to Science Daily.
Walnuts: The Heart-Healthy Superfood
The benefits of walnuts go beyond fighting your cravings for junk. Since they’re packed with heart-healthy omega-3s, walnuts can even help ward off disease.
“[Walnuts] are said to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes because they are high in alpha-linoleic acid. Alpha-linoleic acid is an essential omega-3 acid that can only be obtained through a diet because our bodies do not produce it,” Jim White, RD, ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, explains.
And not only do walnuts help you fight cravings in the brain, but the healthy fats also increase feelings of fullness and satiation. “This is an important factor in fighting cravings,” White says.
So be sure to load up on heart-healthy walnuts next time you hit the grocery store and have at least a serving a day, about ¼ a cup, which comes out to be 190 calories, 4 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of fiber. There’s a reason it’s one of our 6 Best Nuts for Weight Loss.