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Pass the Nuts!

Nuts Increase Fat Burn and Reduce Health Risk

In 1998, I reported that adding a small amount of vegetable oil (olive and then flax seed) to my diet reduced my cholesterol by 21% and cut my triglycerides in half  http://www.cbass.com/TRIGLYCE.HTM . We also highlighted the special benefits of nuts http://www.cbass.com/GONUTS.HTM . Now, we have a study from Spain reporting that nuts reduced belly fat and a grouping of serious health risks more than olive oil or a low-fat diet. Significantly, these results were achieved without calorie reduction or weight loss.

The study appears in the December 8/22, 2008, Archives of Internal Medicine.

The year-long study followed 1224 Spaniards ages 50 to 80 comparing the effect of three diets—two Mediterranean and a low-fat control diet—on Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), a combination of heart and other risk factors. The traditional Mediterranean diet (Med-Diet) is high in grains, vegetables, fruits, and olive oil; moderate in fish; and low in dairy products, meat, and sweets. Nuts are also commonly found in the traditional Med-Diet.

One Med-Diet was supplemented with virgin olive oil and the other contained an equivalent amount of mixed nuts (three whole walnuts, seven or eight whole hazelnuts, and seven or eight whole almonds). The control group restricted fat from both animal and vegetable sources. Participants were allowed to eat all they wanted and were not asked to increase physical activity.

The study participants had no history of heart disease, but 61.4% met the criteria for Metabolic Syndrome, a constellation of three or more metabolic abnormalities that includes high blood sugar, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and abdominal obesity. The MetS risk factors are synergistic. The combination creates a risk greater than the sum of the parts.

The most frequent MetS components found were high blood pressure (95.8%), high blood sugar (66.9%), and abdominal obesity (66.5%).

At the end of the year, all three groups had fewer people with MetS, but those eating nuts led with an improvement of 13.7%, compared to 6.7% for the olive oil group, and 2.0% for the low-fat control group. The reduction of MetS in the nuts group was statistically significant. The changes in the other two groups were not significant.


Here's how the researchers explained the results.

“The beneficial effect of the Med-Diet + nuts on MetS status occurred despite relatively small macronutrient changes,” the researcher reported. “Nevertheless, all nutrient changes were in the intended direction, with increases in the intake of fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and reduced saturated fatty acid intake, mainly reflecting increased consumption of nuts.”

Nuts, of course, are whole foods, while olive oil is a lipid extracted from olives. Whole foods often contain important nutrients not found in refined foods.

The researcher also observed that walnuts are much richer than olive oil in vegetable omega-3 fatty acid.

“There is increasing evidence that dietary fat need not be drastically reduced, as advocated in the past, to provide protection from [cardiovascular disease],” the researchers added. Saturated fat found in meat and dairy products can be harmful, but the unsaturated fat in vegetables and fish is generally considered “good fat.”

That’s the big picture. The details are even more interesting.

No Weight Loss

“What’s most surprising is they found substantial metabolic benefits in the absence of calorie reduction or weight loss,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (She did not take part in the study.)

According to the researchers, only three previous studies have looked at the effect of dietary pattern on MetS—and in all three improved MetS status came with calorie reduction and substantial weight loss. “Weight loss appears to be the driving force for the reversion of MetS,” the researchers noted.

“The novelty of our findings is that a positive effect on MetS was achieved by diet alone, in the absence of weight loss or increase in energy expenditure,” the researchers wrote. “That suggests that...nuts have positive effects on insulin resistance and/or other factors central to MetS, such as systemic oxidation and related chronic inflammation.”

Belly Fat Reduced

The Med-Diet + Nuts group didn’t lose weight, but more of them did reduce belly fat.

“Reversion of abdominal obesity in the Med-Diet + nuts group is plausible, given that consumption of nuts has been associated with satiety, increased thermogenesis, fat malabsorbtion, and lower adiposity, and could further reduce inflammation,” the researchers explained.

Visceral fat appears to interact with inflammatory cells, making it especially toxic: http://cbass.com/Deepfatdeadly.htm .

Nuts help people feel full while increasing the body’s ability to burn fat, said lead researcher Jordi Salas-Salvado, MD, PhD, a preventive medicine specialist at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Reus, Spain.

Bottom line: PASS THE NUTS!

Don’t overdo it, however. Nuts may be healthy, but they’re also high in calories. Adding nuts to a diet already packed with calories and junk foods will only make us fatter.

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