A new study published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health says snacking on nuts reduces risk of weight gain. Switching just half a serving of unhealthy foods for nuts prevents long-term weight gain and obesity. Nuts have long been lauded as a snack food for their nutritional value.
According to the study, Americans have increased their consumption of various kinds of nuts, but little research had been done before regarding the effects of this dietary change on weight gain or loss. The study concluded that this classic snack food is linked to a reduced risk of overall weight increase in adults. Nuts have been a staple food as part of a healthy diet for decades due to their wide range of nutritional benefits like protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Brushing Up on Fiber
Plenty of foods boast that they’re high in fiber, such as any food containing bran—bran muffins, bran cereal, and so on—but what exactly is fiber?
“The Food Nutrition Board suggests that total fiber is the sum of both dietary fiber and functional fiber,” said Professor Roberta H. Anding, Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
First up is dietary fiber. “Dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate and lignins, which are the woody portions of the plant, that are intrinsic to plant-based foods,” Professor Anding said. In a clear example, non-digestible carbohydrates and lignins are responsible for the woody parts of vegetables like broccoli stems and celery stalks.
Second, functional fiber is a different type of non-digestible carbohydrate. Professor Anding said that functional fiber can have many benefits for us. “Functional fiber could be the gummy or viscous fiber, [like] the thicker fibers that are found in oatmeal, and this specific type of fiber is called ‘beta-glucan,'” she said. “Beta-glucan lowers your cholesterol; it supports the immune function.”
Professor Anding said another way to differentiate between fiber types is simply whether or not they dissolve in water. If they aren’t water soluble, they’re more likely to be dietary fiber. Several kinds of beans, on the other hand, break apart when cooked in hot water. Those are functional fibers, since they’re water-soluble.
Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet
The best-known benefit of maintaining a diet that’s high in fiber is the healthy passing of waste. According to Professor Anding, fiber can lead to stool that isn’t too firm to pass but also isn’t diarrhea. This can help all of us, but especially AIDS patients. It also lessens the risk of digestive disease and helps prevent hemorrhoids.
“[Fiber] can also help to lower blood cholesterols, and in that case, help prevent cardiovascular disease, or heart disease,” Professor Anding said. “Certainly, we may be able to reduce the risk of developing Type-2 diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels, and it’s due to the fiber and because these wonderful whole grain foods are a source of magnesium, which is lost in the processing of whole grains.”
Nuts may primarily be known as a source of protein, but their high-fiber content shouldn’t be overlooked, either. While the new study links nuts to healthier weights, the popular snack can provide other benefits, all the way up to and including saving lives.
Professor Roberta H. Anding contributed to this article. Professor Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She received her bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and her master’s degree in Nutrition from Louisiana State University.