How to Not Overeat on Nuts While Still Getting Their Benefit

Tonight I was watching Jeff Novick's video Calorie Density: How to Eat More, Weigh Less and Live Longer. Jeff uses humor and a lot of solid science-based information to show how the calorie density of the foods we eat can cause us to gain weight. Calorie density being the number of calories per pound that a food contains. At its extreme, there are 40 times as many calories in a pound of oil than there are in a pound of broccoli. In fact, there are more calories in a tablespoon of oil than there are in a pound of broccoli. And because its bulk that fills us up for the most part, we tend to overeat those things at the higher end of the calorie density scale. Unfortunately, nuts are at the higher end of the calorie density scale. It's easy to binge out on nuts, but whoever heard of anybody going on a broccoli binge? This of course is very similar to Chef AJ's Eat to the Left of the Red Line talk as well.

The problem comes up when we talk about nuts. Nuts are a calorie-dense food. Jeff Novick says that doesn't make them fattening, but it's hard not to overeat on nuts. Dr. McDougall says the same thing in his book The Starch Solution. But there has been so much recent research telling us how good nuts are for us.  Much of it is documented by Dr. Greger at and I won't go into all of it here. And in fact Dr. Greger lists nuts and seeds in his "daily dozen" of foods to be eaten on a daily basis for maximum health. And Dr. Dean Ornish recently changed his program for heart patients to allow for daily consumption of nuts. And in the Blue Zone population of Loma Linda, CA, it was found that Adventists who ate nuts lived longer than those who did not.

But of course, this poses a problem. How do we get those benefits from nuts without eating too many nuts? After all, we all know that if you sit down with a container of nuts, then you're likely to eat the whole container. And I'm no exception on that. But fortunately, there are ways to get the benefits of nuts without overdoing it. Following are my thoughts on different ways to get a daily allotment of nuts:

Use nut-based milks on your oatmeal in the morning or whenever you have a need to use milk. We've all switched away from cow's milk, but many have moved to soy milk, coconut milk or rice milk. But soy milk is high in fat, coconut milk is high in saturated fats and rice milk is high in sugars. Nut-based milks, can be gotten with no added sugar and the fats they contain are the very kinds of fats that researchers are finding to be beneficial. In nut-based milks, like almond milk or cashew milk, you get many of the benefits of nuts, except for the fiber, without the threat of going on a nut milk binge.

Carla Golden, a nutritional leader in Hilton Head, SC and a friend of mine, commented after reading this that she makes her own almond milk as well. It's easy to do she says. She suggests using 1 to 1-1/2 cups of almonds to 3-1/2 cups of water. Blend it in a high-speed blender (think Vitamix) and then strain through a cheesecloth. I personally have never made almond milk because I didn't want to get into straining it, but she mentioned that it doesn't need to be strained if you let the solids settle to the bottom. I like that. This will keep for about a week, although another reader has noted to me that if 1/3rd of the almonds are replaced with Brazil nuts, then it will keep longer.

Eat your nuts in other foods. Check out my recipe for colcannon. It is a mashed potato and cabbage dish where cashews are used to give it a creamy texture. By making this recipe, you can meet your daily need for nuts without ever knowing that you're eating any nuts. You won't overeat on the nuts by doing that. They are measured out in the recipe on a per serving basis. So, this is another great way to get some nuts into your diet without going overboard.

Make salad dressings, sauces and gravies with nuts. Kathryn Salm, a nutritional therapist specializing in plant-based nutrition, has a basil cashew dressing that she uses and advises her clients to use. She is forwarding me the recipe, and if I agree with how good it is, then I'll publish that recipe in the near future.

Eat nuts with purpose. By this I mean you should know why you're eating a particular nut and how many you need to eat to get that benefit. For example, both Dr. Greger and Kaiser Permanente in its instructions to doctors on counseling patients toward a whole foods, plant-based way of eating, counsel that we should eat four Brazil nuts a month. That's because our bodies need selenium and Brazil nuts are the best source for that. So, I follow that by eating one Brazil nut on Sundays. I buy four Brazil nuts at a time once a month and then apportion one out each Sunday. Eating the Brazil nut is like taking my B-12 vitamin. It's just something I do for the nutritional benefit. Just as I don't take more than one B-12 tablet, even though it tastes good, I don't have any desire to eat more than one Brazil nut on Sundays. The cashiers at Kroger do wonder about me coming in and buying just four Brazil nuts though.

Put walnuts on your oatmeal. Just know how many you're going to put on the oatmeal. And keep it to that. While I like nuts, I never have any desire to put more walnuts on my oatmeal than what I initially put on. The walnuts, in addition to all the nutritional health benefits they provide, give my oatmeal some crunch in the morning too. And I like that.

Never buy salted and roasted nuts. Buy only raw nuts, like you would for a recipe that calls for nuts. If you plan to snack on nuts, buy the nuts in the shell. Having to crack open the shell first makes it less likely you will binge out. And if you do, you will have spent calories in the process of doing so.

So, there you have it. Unlike the expression about cake, you can have the nuts and eat them too. Just be conscious of what you are doing. Obviously, you can't do all of these ideas at the same time. Remember, the purpose here is to have nuts in your diet but to not overdo it. And if you know you can't snack on nuts without doing a binge with them, then don't snack on nuts. As I show in this article, there are plenty of other ways to get nuts into your diet without snacking on them.

J Lanning Smith