If you’re watching your waistline, yet another piece of research is suggesting that nuts – especially walnuts – could help with weight loss along with improving on heart health and cholesterol levels.
A diet high in polyunsaturated fats – found in walnuts and olive oil, for example – helped those trying to lose weight just as much as dieters who were swearing by a low-fat diet, San Diego doctors say in a new study.
“One of the surprising findings of this study was that even though walnuts are higher in fat and calories, the walnut-rich diet was associated with the same degree or weight loss as a lower fat diet,” Dr. Cheryl Rock, of the University of California’s San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“Considering the results of this study, as well as previous walnut research on heart health and weight, there’s something to be said for eating a handful of walnuts a day,” she said.
Walnuts are packed with antioxidants, phytosterols and other compounds that may help keep breast cancer away, according to research. They’re also full of healthy omega-3s, which can help with brain health and blood pressure.
For their research, Rock and her team worked with 245 overweight and obese women who were taking part in a one-year weight loss plan. The group was split into three streams: one was fed a low fat, high-carb diet, a second was fed a low-carb and high-fat diet and the third was fed a walnut-rich, high fat and low-carb diet.
Those assigned to a walnut-rich diet were eating 1.5 ounces – or 43 grams – per day. That’s about a handful of the nuts.
At the six-month mark on the three diets, all three groups lost about eight per cent of their initial weight on average. But it was the group that grazed on walnuts daily that saw the biggest dip in LDL cholesterol – dubbed the “bad cholesterol” – along with an increase in good cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol.
The researchers say it’s because this group zeroed in on polyunsaturated fats. They note they aren’t the first to promote the health benefits of this type of fat in helping to lower the risk of heart disease.
Last year, Canadian researchers said that eating tree nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios, could help to lower triglycerides and blood sugars in the body.
A single serving a day – about 30 to 50 grams – is enough to rep the benefits.
“Nuts are certainly a complete food and need to be given their rightful place in a healthy diet. There is room for people to be able to increase their nut intake and take advantage of these benefits,” Dr. John Sievenpiper told Global News. Sievenpiper is a doctor and scientist at St. Michael’s nutrition centre.
So why aren’t consumers eating them? They’re expensive, for starters, but Sievenpiper suggests that Canadians are also hesitant because nuts are high in calories and fat. He’s hoping to dispel that negative thinking.
“We didn’t see any increase in weight or belly fat…the calories that are labelled on tree nuts may not be the calories that you actually metabolize,” he explained.
Rock says her study has its share of limitations, though: only women were included in the research so they’re unsure if the results would extend to men. Their sample size is also small, because only one-third of the 245 women were put on the walnut-heavy diet. Finally, it’s unclear if the women in all three sections were to sticking to their diets.
“Considering the weight loss that was seen in participants, it seems that most were adhering to a reduced calorie diet,” the researchers say.
Their next steps are to look at how walnuts help with feeling full. Their full findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Read the study here.