Post-Pesach many of us begin making promises to ourselves in the hopes of looking and/or feeling better. Some of the most popular wishes people share with me include: Being stricter about eating habits, losing weight, going for a checkup/special exam, and here’s a big one, exercising!
So when clients ask me, “What should I do to lose weight/get rid of these thighs, stomach, backside/and feel good about myself and how I look?” one answer I give is, “GO NUTS”! Yes, literally! Proper snacking especially with such a nutrient-rich, heart healthy, incredibly satisfying, fun to eat, and not to mention delicious treat such as nuts, may be just the solution to your problem.
Now, it goes without saying that every individual is unique and has specific nutritional needs and hereditary predispositions, however the overruling perception that nuts are “bad” or are “soooo fattening” may not entirely be the case! While nuts are indeed a calorie-dense food, the good news is that studies have shown that people who consume nuts within moderation aren’t any fatter than people who avoid nuts. That’s because nuts are satiating, meaning they stick to you and help you feel “fed.” For example, a small closed-fisted handful of nuts (around 150 calories) for an afternoon snack often ends up being lower in calories than the 100-calorie pack of cookies that leads to another and yet another 100-calorie pack, because you are still hungry. Snacks like crackers, pretzels and rice cakes fail to keep you satiated because they lack the right amounts of protein, fat and fiber – which nuts have.
I discovered a fascinating study of adolescent students who took part in the “Family Lifestyle and Over-weight Prevention Program” in Houston. The teens were given a nut based snack after school to improve the quality of their diet: Nuts and peanut butter along with vegetables and fruits (such as apple slices or baby carrots with peanut butter, or trail mix with peanuts and dried fruit). These snacks replaced the popular chips, cookies and snack cakes. The results: these kids lost weight on the nut regimen and kept it off for longer than 6 months! Equally as important they LIKED the snacks. There’s no denying that a plain apple seems boring and may be unpopular because in and of itself it’s not substantial enough to satisfy afternoon hunger and cravings alone – but add the peanut butter and that apple becomes a yummy treat!
So, when the afternoon munchies strike, I invite you to “go nuts” and enjoy a handful of them. You may well discover you are less hungry for a longer period of time. While a few rice cakes may fill you for half an hour, the nuts may last 2.5 hours!
So why are so many people so afraid to eat nuts? A client once told me that she is afraid to keep a jar of cashews in the house because, “I’d end up eating them all and gaining weight!” So if you are afraid that the “handful” will turn into a “jarful,” portion it out in advance. And remember, the best way to take the power away from a so-called “trouble food” is to eat it more often, or sincerely KNOW that you can, even every day!
Now, some of you may be thinking, that’s not exactly how it works with me. That’s because when you over eat nuts (or any food for that matter) you think, “I just blew my (overly strict) diet by eating some almonds, so I might as well eat the whole jar to get rid of them, and then I can get back on my diet.” Or, you are at a social occasion and end up eating too many peanuts because you are starving or drinking and you may say to yourself, “This is my last chance to eat peanuts before I go back on my diet. I’d better eat them now because I’m never touching them ever again!” The best way to handle these diet-sabotaging thoughts is to change the way you perceive nuts and thereby your relationship with them as a food. Don’t deny, modify. While this may sound scary to overeaters, the reality is that after eating nuts for a few days you will find that you can cut back on them when you want to, without penalty!
So now that I may have convinced you to break out the nuts as snacks, you may be wondering, “Which nuts are best to eat?” That is kind of like asking, “What is the best fruit to have?” The reality is, aside from satiety, each type of nut offers its own special health benefits – and tastes good! Almonds have a little more fiber than cashews and per ounce you can have 28 vs. 23 cashews for about the same calories (170 calories). Walnuts have a little more polyunsaturated fat than hazelnuts and contain omega-3-fatty acids (great for your heart, brain, hair, eyes ). Peanuts have a little more vitamin E than walnuts, and pistachios are the lowest calorie variety with a serving size of about 30 nuts having just 150 calories. But no one nut is distinctly superior to another one. My advice: Mix them up! Choose a variety for the best nutritive, flavor, and health protective attributes!
So go ahead, for both health and weight management advantages, add a spoonful of slivered almonds to your morning oatmeal, afternoon salad or in your green beans at dinner! Don’t panic about the calories/fat. Remember, nuts are filled with nutrients that can easily be processed out of refined foods. Some vitamins and minerals include: magnesium, niacin vitamin E, copper, manganese, phytochemicals and even resveratrol (like in red wine!). Not surprisingly, people who consume nuts or peanut butter 5 or more times a week reduce their risk of heart disease or diabetes by more than 20%!
So kick up your heels and don’t be afraid to GO NUTS!
Rachael E. Schindler, Ph.D., MA, MS, CAI, CPT. Over 18 years experience in exercise physiology, Pilates, nutritional counseling and teaching, as well as multiple degrees in forensic and developmental psychology, come together to offer you the best of both body and mind. Specializing in food and behavioral “issues” for both children and adults, you get the right combination of diet, exercise and support all in one stop! Insurance is accepted. I can be reached at Teichbergr@aol.com, or (917)690-5097.