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Michael Greger MD

Michael Greger MD

Posted December 27, 2012

Published in Health

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Nuts Don't Cause Expected Weight Gain

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Nuts are packed with nutrition, but they are also packed with calories. Why, then, don't nuts seem to make people fat? In my video Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence, I profile a review published back in 2007 looking at about 20 clinical trials that had been done on nuts and weight. Not a single one showed the weight gain one would expect.

All of the studies either showed less weight gain than predicted, no weight gain at all, or actual weight loss--even after study subjects added a handful or two of nuts per day to their diet. However, the studies lasted just a few weeks or months. What about long-term?

Maybe in the short run nuts don't lead to weight gain as much as other foods, but what about after years of eating nuts? Well that's been examined six different ways in studies lasting up to eight years. One found no significant change and the other five out of six measures found significantly less weight gain and risk of abdominal obesity in those eating more nuts.

Since that review is now 5 years old, in my Weight of Evidence video I update it to include all of the studies published since, including a number published this year. For example, in 2012 there was study in which people added over a hundred pistachios to their daily diets for three months and didn't gain a pound. How did 30,000 calories disappear?

What happened to the missing calories? The mystery has been solved. In my video series that started with Solving the Mystery of the Missing Calories, I presented the "pistachio principle" and the fecal excretion theory. In my next video these theories were put to the test. I then explored the Dietary Compensation Theory, and by the final video in the series we had figured it out.

Part of the trick seemed to be that nuts boost fat burning within the body. But how? It could have something to do with the amino acid arginine (see my 2-min. video Fat Burning via Arginine) or the phytonutrients found in nuts and green tea (Fat Burning via Flavonoids).

Since nut consumption has been associated with lower rates of heart disease and living a longer life we should include them in our regular diet without worrying that they're going to make us fat.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: You can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

Image credit: jypsygen / Flickr


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Jeff Novick recently did a talk on the nut confusion. His comments seem to be in direct conflict with the studies that Dr Gregor cites above, and Dr Gregor's conclusions therefrom.

I wonder how much effect the background diet has on these results? That is, if a person is already eating a sound vegan diet without nuts, then adds them, how much effect would be seen? I doubt that a small amount (5-7 almonds or walnut halves) would have any observable effect, allergies aside, and large amounts would probably affect the body like added vegetable oils (not good).

Nevertheless, I suspect that nearly all the studies done to date have looked at the effect of nuts when added to the standard american diet (SAD). These are typically funded by nut growers looking to show that their products are a magic bullet for health, especially for those eating the SAD diet.

When will we ever learn that all food intake must be considered together to understand the response of the body?

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