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Going nuts on the calorie count

— New York Times News Service
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A recent study shows that nuts like almond are only partially absorbed by our body

When it comes to being “part of a balanced diet,” nuts have undergone quite the rehabilitation. Time was, anyone worried about gaining weight would steer well clear of walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts and other nuts because they were considered “fattening” — that is, high in fat and calories.

And their “bet you can’t eat just one” tastiness makes it easy to overindulge.

Today we understand that nuts contain plenty of good stuff, including heart-healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and plenty of fibre. On the ‘calories’ question, nuts are what those in the nutrition business call “energy dense,” meaning they contain more bang for the caloric buck than most foods. Or do they?

The Almond study

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that almonds, at least, do not contain as many calories — or at least as many “available” calories — as previously thought.

According to Janet A. Novotny, from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., and lead author of the almond study 18 healthy adults ate almonds as part of a carefully controlled diet.

One serving of whole almonds contains 161 calories, according to the Nutrition Facts label, but when they compared their subjects’ caloric intake to their caloric outflow they discovered only about 129 calories per serving had actually been absorbed — almost 20 percent less than you’d expect.

What happens to the rest?

So why don’t we absorb all the calories the humble almond has to offer? Blame it on the hardness of the cell walls. “That’s what makes almonds so difficult to chew,” explained Novotny.

You may think you’re swallowing small pieces of chewed-up almonds, but to your digestive tract they’re veritable boulders. And as these pieces pass through your body, they’re only partially digested and absorbed into your system. The other 20 percent? Flushed away.

Bottom line, according to Novotny, “Almonds aren’t as digestible as most other foods.” And it’s not just almonds.

Novotny has found the same thing with pistachio nuts, albeit to a lesser extent. “Pistachios are softer, so only about 5 percent of the calories go unabsorbed,” she said, adding that she’s also exploring the absorbability of calories in other nuts.— New York Times News Service


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