It's OK to Go a Little Nuts: Some May Have Fewer Calories Than Thought

Almonds and pistachios
(Image credit: Nuts photo via Shutterstock)

Almonds are among my favorite snack foods. Not only are they super convenient (no prep time whatsoever), but they're also rich in fiber, vitamins, and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Additionally, there is evidence that almonds have cholesterol-lowering effects, according to a 2011 study in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 

So, there are plenty of reasons to snack on almonds, but also one reason why you shouldn't go hog wild on the nuts: calorie count. Fortunately, there is some good news on this front — almonds may actually have about 30 percent fewer calories than thought, according to a study published in July in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Previous estimates suggested that one serving (about an ounce) of almonds had 170 calories, but the new study, which was partly funded by the industry group Almond Board of California, found that the nuts contain about 130 calories per serving.

A similar study published earlier this year by the same researchers found that pistachios have about 5 percent fewer calories than previously thought. Researchers calculate the amount of energy in food (as measured in calories) in food by a method called the Atwater factor, but these studies are now suggesting that this formula may not be accurate for every food, and especially for nuts.

In the almond study, researchers analyzed the feces and urine of people who ate different quantities of nuts. It sounds pretty gross, but what they found was surprising: people who ate more nuts had more fat in their poop. That means their bodies aren't absorbing all the fat in the nut — some of it passed right through. So, there's a disconnect between the energy content of the nut, and what our bodies use, the researchers concluded. 

Here are some tips for enjoying almonds on a regular basis.

  1. You can now eat about 20 percent more! One serving of almonds is about 20 to 25 nuts. That serving was calculated by using the Atwater data, so you can comfortably add four or five nuts to your daily quota. If you don't count, don't worry. It's about a handful of nuts.
  2. Chew your almonds well. The almond's cell walls protect all the great nutrients inside; chewing helps all that good stuff break free so it can be used by your body.
  3. Try making your own almond milk. Eating almonds every single day may get a little boring. You can get a lot of the same benefits from drinking almond milk – especially if it's homemade. Place about a cup and a half of soaked almonds into a blender, with about four cups of milk. Blend for about two minutes. Add vanilla extract and honey for flavor, if you'd like it sweet. Strain the chunks out with cheesecloth and you should end up with about five cups of almond milk.

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Deborah Enos
Deborah Enos, CN, also known as "The One-Minute Wellness Coach," is The Health Coach for busy, working people. She pares her good-health messages down to simple and fast bullet points that can impact lives in 60 seconds or less. Deborah serves as a board member of the American Heart Association.  In addition to writing the Healthy Bites column for Live Science, Deborah is a regular on FOX Business News, NBC and ABC, and is a frequent contributor to The Costco Connection, Parade Magazine, Self Magazine, Good Housekeeping and USA Today. Deborah is also The One Minute Wellness Coach for The Doctors TV Show.