Weight loss: Almonds not associated with weight gain despite high fat content - study

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When it comes to weight loss, nuts can often get a bad rap: while they're a protein-rich snack, they're also high in fats, and therefore calories - which often sees them relegated to the back of the cupboard.

However, new research from the University of South Australia has found that almonds, despite being calorie-dense, won't affect your weight-loss ambitions: so you can have your nuts and eat them too.

In the largest study of its kind, published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that including almonds in an energy-restricted diet not only helped people to lose weight, but also improved their cardiometabolic health.  

The peer-reviewed study, funded by the Almond Board of California, saw 106 participants complete a nine-month eating programme. It consisted of three months of energy-restricted diet for weight loss, followed by a six-month energy-controlled diet for weight maintenance.   

In both phases, 15 percent of participants' energy intake comprised unsalted whole almonds with skins (for the nut diet) or 15 percent carbohydrate-rich snacks, such as rice crackers or baked cereal bars (for the nut-free diet).   

Examining the effects of energy-restricted diets supplemented with Californian almonds or with carbohydrate-rich snacks, researchers found both diets successfully reduced body weight by about 7kg.  

"Nuts, like almonds, are a great snack. They're high in protein, fibre, and packed with vitamins and minerals, but they also have a high fat content which people can associate with increased body weight," said Dr Sharayah Carter, a researcher at the University of South Australia.   

"Nuts contain unsaturated fats - or healthy fats - which can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, and contribute to a healthy heart.  

"In this study, we examined the effects of an almond-supplemented diet with a nut-free diet to identify any influence on weight and cardiometabolic outcomes. Both the nut and nut-free diets resulted in approximately 9.3 percent reduction in body weight over the trial.  

"Yet the almond-supplemented diets also demonstrated statistically significant changes in some highly atherogenic lipoprotein subfractions, which may lead to improved cardiometabolic health in the longer term.  

"Additionally, nuts have the added benefit of making you feel fuller for longer, which is always a pro when you're trying to manage your weight."  

More than 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight, with 650 million classified as obese. In Australia, two in three people (approximately 12.5 million adults) are overweight or obese; in New Zealand, the national Health Survey 2020/21 found around one in three adults aged 15 years and over were classified as obese (34.3 percent), up from 31.2 percent in 2019/20.  

The findings provide further evidence that dietitians and nutritionists can recommend almonds as part of a balanced weight loss diet, Dr Carter added.   

According to the New Zealand Heart Foundation, eating three to four small handfuls of nuts and seeds each week can help reduce the risk of heart disease, with further heart health benefits likely with higher intakes.  

The Foundation also acknowledges that despite nuts being high in fat, eating them is not associated with weight gain.

"In large population studies and clinical trials, higher nut intakes were not associated with greater body weight. In fact, eating nuts is associated with a lower body weight," its website states.  

"This is likely due to the rich protein, fat and dietary fibre contained in nuts which help people to feel satisfied after a meal or snack and can reduce your overall food intake."