4 September 2018Consider Nuts Instead of Nut Butters If You are Trying to Lose Weight

Many of us love peanut butter and other nut butters. I often see articles written about which nut butter is healthier or better but what is missing from the conversation is the issue of choosing whole nuts over nut butters. Don't get me wrong, natural nut butters are nutritious and can be a very healthy part of your diet. But if you are trying to lose weight, eating nuts instead of nut butters has some advantages to weight control. This doesn't mean you have to give up nut butters altogether - but more often than not, choose whole nuts over nut butters. Here are some reasons why.

Eating Nuts Requires You to Slow Down

Eating nuts requires you to slow down - you need to chew the nuts first before you swallow. Chewing nuts reduces the risk for choking as well as helps the digestive process.

You can practice mindful eating techniques when you eat one nut at a time. Close your eyes and take one nut and start to chew it. How many chews before you swallow? I can get about 20-25 chews before I swallow one pecan. And during that time, I experience the texture and taste to the fullest. It takes me time to get through 1/2 - 1 oz of whole nuts when I practice mindful eating. And the good news is that I satisfy my hunger without eating junk food or chips. I do measure out the portion so that I limit my intake to 90-180 calories, whatever fits into my calories budget that day.

Calories

For the same volume, there are fewer calories in nuts versus nut butters. Let's take peanuts versus peanut butter as an example. Three tablespoons of peanuts weighs about 1 oz (28 grams) and contains about 162 calories. If you consumed 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, the weight would be 48 grams and have about 287 calories.

Another common problem with nut butters is how many people serve themselves. People often tell me that they use a teaspoon to scoop out a serving of nut butter. Then they log 1 teaspoon and are delighted to see that it only contains about 32 calories. However, unless you use a measuring teaspoon and level it, that teaspoon scoop is likely heaping and is closer to one tablespoon - with 96 calories instead of 32 calories. That might not seem like a big deal, but many folks do this daily and sometimes multiple times a day. That daily underestimation could be enough to keep you in calories balance rather than calories deficit (which means you don't lose weight). If you eat nuts or nut butters, be sure to weigh your portions - that is the most accurate way to control your portion size and calories.

Another benefit to eating whole nuts is that the true calories content is likely to be lower than that of their nut butter. There was an interesting study conducted a few years ago that showed whole almonds had a lower calories count than what was being listed in food databases. Apparently, digestion is slightly lower with whole nuts so the true calories obtained from eating whole nuts is lower in a human compared to a bomb calorimeter (how calories are measured in food in a lab). You can learn more about this by our blog post Almonds Have Fewer Calories Than Listed on Food Labels.

Lower carb snack choice

If you are used to eating a snack after dinner then try 1/2 - 1 oz of nuts instead of a sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, try honey-roasted peanuts instead of ice cream or candy. The protein, fat, and chewing will help you feel full but the calories are reasonable at 80-160 calories depending upon portion size. Many people have told me that they get on an evening eating jag when they eat carbs. Does that describe you too? Then consider trying a small portion of nuts instead.

Lower risk of chronic disease is linked to nut consumption, not nut butters

Interestingly, consuming nuts, not nut butters, is associated with a lower risk of common chronic diseases (obesity, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, and Type 2 diabetes).

What is not clear to me is whether or not type of processing matters. For instance, if we just looked at people who consume 100% natural nut butters (with no added ingredients at all, just pulverized nuts), would we still see this difference? Nut butters come in many varieties - many have added oils, sugars, and salt. And most no-stir types have added oils that might offset the beneficial health effects of plain nuts. And for brands that still use partially hydrogenated oils, those harmful Trans fats could offset the cardiovascular health benefits of the nut butter.

Also, what we eat with nut butters affects our overall calories intake and nutrient intake - perhaps enough so to offset the health benefits of the nut ingredient. For instance, I never eat just peanut butter - I almost always have it on a slice of bread with sliced banana, and a small glass of milk. If I have that as a meal, then the calories work out okay, but as a snack, that means a hefty cost of 360 calories! However, I often just eat whole nuts as a standalone snack -1 oz of nuts satisfies me for about 180 calories (more or less depending upon the nut type).

But I love nut butters!

If you love and prefer nut butters and won't eat whole nuts, then just use caution. Opt for natural nut butters with few or no added ingredients. This might mean you have to stir the nut butter before each use. Be sure to measure the weight of your portion carefully and make sure the calories fit. Don't nibble mindlessly on nut butters if you are trying to lose weight. Also, pay attention to what you typically eat with the nut butter. Are you eating more carbs and calories than you intended because certain foods and beverages go well together?

Tracking helps you keep a handle on the calories but try experimenting with combinations. Instead of a peanut butter sandwich or peanut butter and banana, mix it up a bit and try a smaller amount of peanut butter with a fresh apple or celery (an even lower carb option).

Mix it Up!

Tree nuts and peanuts are all great sources of healthy fats and nutrients. If you need to limit your sodium (salt) intake, then avoid heavily seasoned flavors and go for lightly salted or no added salt versions. Mix it up a bit - try different types of nuts. On any given day, I'll have at least 5 types of nuts in my pantry. Right now, I have walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts, and honey-roasted peanuts.

If you would like to learn more about the health benefits of eating whole nuts, check out these resources:

Relationship of tree nut, peanut and peanut butter intake with total and cause-specific mortality, a cohort study and meta-analysis. Or, you could read this is a short summary in Science Daily.

Why nutritionists are crazy about nuts

Bon appetit!

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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Foods & Recipes/Nuts & Seeds Weight Loss/Appetite & Satiety

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