4 September 12 Almonds Have Fewer Calories Than Listed on Food Labels!

Almond lovers take heart! Apparently, food labels overestimate the true caloric content of almonds, and most likely, other nuts, seeds, and peanuts. Hurray, and thank goodness! Almonds are nutritious, satisfying, and deserve a place at the table with the healthy, weight conscious eater.

Novotny, Gebauer, and Baer published their research on the caloric content of almonds in this month's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr 2012;96:296-301). Using a measurement strategy that allows for the estimation of calories within the context of a mixed diet (vs. just eating almonds for 3 days), the researchers discovered two interesting qualities about almonds:

1. Average calories content is lower due to lower digestibility of fat in almonds

4.6 calories/gram of nuts vs. 6.0 - 6.1 calories/gram of nuts

2. Incorporating almonds into the diet decreases the overall digestibility and therefore, absorbable calories content of the entire diet by:

Nearly 5% lower when 42 grams of almonds (1.5 oz or 35 nuts) are consumed

Nearly 10% lower when 84 grams of almonds (3 oz or 70 nuts) are consumed

"Atwater Specific Factors" are commonly used to estimate calories from foods based upon their fat, carbohydrate, and protein content. The factor for fat appears to be too high for almonds (and likely other nuts and peanuts). The high digestibility factor is likely more appropriate for almond oil, but not for the intact nut. The authors note that nut butters might be somewhere between the digestibility of whole nuts and oil.

Many of us in the field of nutrition encourage and educate our patients and clients to use whole foods, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods over highly processed foods. A calories advantage could be yet another feather in the cap of the humble whole food.

This almond study is very exciting and I expect (and hope) that it spurs more studies on the nutrient and caloric content of other foods. USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference serves as the base for virtually all commercial nutrient databases in the United States, so it is important to correct errors with updated, accurate nutrient data.

So, what do we do with this information right now? I think it is premature to change MyNetDiary data based upon this one study. But we can feel less fearful of including almonds (or other nuts and peanuts) into our otherwise calories-controlled diet. Plug in the nuts and use the calories as noted, knowing that you are consumer fewer calories than stated. By doing this, you create a larger calories deficit than planned. This will help offset calories error lurking in other places.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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