Heart Healthy Nuts and Weight Gain

Nuts have been promoted as heart healthy because eating them can lower triglycerides and cholesterol but many of us tend to avoid them because we don’t want to gain weight due to the high fat content in nuts. However, a recent study printed in the Nutrition Journal 2012 concluded that eating nuts does not lead to weight gain. Can we eat heart healthy nuts without fear of weight gain? Recent studies show that just might be the case!

Heart Healthy Pistachios

Previous studies have shown that, if you have moderately high cholesterol or triglycerides, eating pistachios and other nuts can help to lower those levels. For example, eating nuts can lower your triglyceride level by 10.2%.

So, let’s say your triglycerides are running about 150 mg/dl. Simply substituting a handful of nuts for potato chips or pretzels can lower that level to about 135 mg/dl.

Reducing your cholesterol and triglycerides can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. But, many health experts and dietitians tend to caution against eating nuts because nuts are high in fat and may lead to weight gain. Is there cause for concern?

Will Pistachios Cause Weight Gain?

In the study, 90 people diagnosed with metabolic syndrome were assigned to eat on a daily basis one of the following:

  • 42 grams of pistachios
  • 70 gram of pistachios
  • No pistachios

After 12 weeks, none of the participants gained weight or had an increase in waist-to-hip ratio, which is an indication of metabolic syndrome.  The conclusion?  Adding pistachios to your diet, and even more so, substituting pistachios for high carb snacks, will not lead to weight gain.

What About the Lipid Levels?

In this study, the smaller serving of nuts lowered the level of triglycerides. There were no significant changes noted in those eating the 70 grams of nuts or those eating no nuts at all.

In previous studies, eating pistachios lowered LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels by about 10%. Lowering both triglycerides and cholesterol is a great heart-healthy benefit.

The Key to Eating Nuts for Heart Health

While adding pistachios to your diet can yield heart-healthy benefits, the key to this is portion control. More is not better. You do not need a lot of nuts to get health benefits. In the study, the amount of pistachios used that lowered triglycerides and cholesterol without increasing weight was 42 grams. That’s slightly over 1 ounces, or around 50 kernels of shelled pistachios. That’s a pretty good snack.

Follow the Pistachio Principle

To stop yourself from eating too many nuts, don’t eat them by the handful. Instead, follow the ‘Pistachio Principle’  and eat in-shell pistachios. Shelling the nuts takes time and slows down your eating, helping to prevent overeating and allows your brain time to ‘feel full’.

You will eat less but feel just as satisfied. Your heart will love you.

Source: Nutrition Journal 2012, 11:20 Effects of pistachios on body weight in Chinese subjects with metabolic syndrome