It's a fact of life that your body changes as you get older, and most commonly, people end up putting on weight. But recent research from Harvard University has found that replacing unhealthy foods with nuts really could slow down the pile-on of pounds.
The major study monitored both the eating habits and the weight gain of more than 300,000 people over the course of two decades, and found that those who ate half a portion (14g) of nuts every day gained less weight and were less likely to become obese.So even if you put down half a packet of crisps, exchanging it for a small handful of nuts, you could make a difference to your weight gain in future.
Helping us to decode the research is registered dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD. Explaining the logic behind the findings, Juliette tells Cosmopolitan: "One of the reasons nuts may help people better manage their weight is thanks to them helping us to stay fuller for longer. Most nuts are high in in fibre, with almonds containing the most – a 28g serving contain 3.5g fibre, more than a tenth of our daily needs," the dietitian notes. "Plus, nuts usually provide protein which, according to the British Nutrition Foundation, may aid satiety – that feeling of fullness we get after eating."
The expert also suggests that nuts help us to feel full thanks to their crunchiness. "Foods with a hard, crunchy texture like nuts need more chewing and so they stay in our mouth for longer than soft food. This stimulates senses that trigger signals involved in satiety. The action of chewing itself is also thought to increase the release of substances that are associated with satiety," explains Juliette.
We know nuts are good fats, which makes them calorific. But the dietitian says this needn't put you off if you're worried about weight gain. In a recent study focussing on almonds researchers found that a 28g serving of whole natural almonds (about 23) actually provided the body with 25% fewer calories than what was shown on the packet. This, Juliette notes, is "probably because our body doesn’t absorb all the fat from whole almonds."
Preventing weight gain aside, swapping your usual snacks for a portion of nuts ensures you're getting the vitamins and minerals you need for good health. Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, vitamins B1, B2 and B3, folate and vitamin E are all present in nuts, according to the dietitian.
"This makes nuts a particularly good choice for snacking on, as many other snack foods such as crisps or biscuits come with a lot of calories and usually fat, sugar, and/or salt - but not that much protein or fibre, or many vitamins and minerals," says Juliette
How can you easily add more nuts into your diet?
As a snack
"Instead of reaching for a chocolate bar or packet of crisps, which comes with a lot of calories, but not that many nutrients, keep a little tin or container with handful of almonds (approximately 23) in your handbag. Ideally stick with unflavoured, plain varieties to help limit extra salt and sugar in your diet," suggests the dietitian.
"Top wholegrain cereals or a bowl of porridge with a handful of chopped nuts," advises Juliette.
"If you’re into baking, add nuts to bread, cakes, muffins or biscuits for a little hit of nutrition," she suggests.
"Don’t just think sweet – nuts make a great crunchy addition to salads in place of croutons. They’re also great in dishes such as stir fries or sprinkled over curries just before serving," says the expert.
As nut butter
"Instead of sugary jam, syrup or marmalade, top toast with no added sugar or salt nut butters. Or add a spoonful into smoothies to provide a wider range of vitamins and minerals, and add a little fibre and protein," suggests Juliette.