Nut consumption by the average American has been slowly increasing. But it remains quite low. And this is at the same time that snacking has doubled in America. For the most part, the health benefits of nuts are poorly understood. Most importantly, part of the reason that nut consumption is low may be a concern about weight gain from the high fat content of nuts. Many people still believe that eating fat makes you fat.
Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat
However, there are multiple studies on the effect of nuts on health and weight gain. We discussed here, here, and here some studies that were done on weight gain. Similarly, this recent study (1) is another that looked at weight gain from nuts, as well as the effect on some aspects of health and appetite.
This study was a randomized, controlled, parallel arm study that included 137 participants. The researchers divided the participants into groups that ate nuts with meals or as a snack in between meals. And they included a control group that did not eat nuts. The nuts the researchers chose were almonds. Each participant consumed 43 g of almonds a day.
In particular, researchers probably chose 43 g because it is one and a half ounces. In 2003 the FDA approved a claim that could be put on package labels that included this quantity. “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
This particular study lasted four weeks. The participants were all prone to developing diabetes and its associated diseases. The researchers looked at the glucose tolerance test, and blood tests associated with coronary heart disease. They also checked on weight gain, increase in waist size, and increase in body fat.
Benefits Of Nuts In The Study
Then, at the end of 4 weeks the researchers found that those who ate almonds had no increase in weight or body fat. Also, the almond eating participants had improved glucose tolerance tests. This result meant less likelihood of diabetes compared to the control group.
The researchers found that when taken as a snack, the participants ate less at meals. And when taken at meals, portions of other foods were adjusted. Participants' weight remained stable because there was no increase in caloric intake.
One Way To Start A High Potassium Foods Diet
So, this research shows that a good way to start a high potassium foods diet could be to simply substitute almonds for whatever snack you eat today. Simply by doing this you will be improving your potassium to sodium ratio, your glucose tolerance, and your cardiac blood tests. And you would not have to worry about gaining weight or body fat.
The participants got tired of the nuts, though. At the end of the study, they reported that they liked almonds slightly less than they had before.
Like the participants, if you only eat almonds, you may tire of the taste also. But other nuts should give benefits similar to almonds. Simply rotate other nuts into the snack. They all have high potassium sodium ratios, and similar fatty acid profiles. Only coconut has a high percentage of saturated fat.
What Is Responsible For The Health Benefits Of Nuts?
Almost all nuts have a high potassium sodium ratio. Almonds are among the highest. However, the benefits of nuts that come from this high ratio are almost never considered when nuts are studied. As a result, the assumption is that the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the major factor involved in the health benefits of nuts.
Although the fat composition is important, studies should try to separate the health benefits attributable to the potassium sodium ratio. Changing the average American's diet by substituting 43 g of nuts iso-calorically with other foods would improve the potassium sodium ratio from 0.8 to 0.9. Even better, increasing nut consumption iso-calorically to 1 cup a day would increase the ratio to 1.3, without any other change in diet.
One Way The Potassium Sodium Ratio Helps The Heart
As discussed in this post, going from 0.6 to 1.3 in the potassium sodium ratio results in going from heart muscle cell death to no effect on heart muscle cells. Changing the ratio just this much would drop the rate of hypertension and cardiovascular disease dramatically.
But eating a cup a day of nuts by themselves would make many people quickly tire of the taste of nuts. However, there are other ways to include nuts in the diet. Instead of just eating nuts as a snack, for example, make almond flour to bread your meat or vegetables.
An additional way to eat nuts is to make a nut butter or a paste. Then you can put it on other foods such as bananas, waffles, or pancakes. Add some spice to the butter, such as garlic or cinnamon, to get even more potassium. Then use it as a dip for raw vegetables or fruit as a snack. Or combine almond paste with cocoa and mint. It makes a delicious dessert.
Watch Out For Additives
But make the butter yourself. If you buy a commercial brand be careful. It should be pure. Most commercial almond butters and other nut butters have palm oil added. Half of palm oil is saturated fat. Coconut oil is even worse. It is almost all saturated fat. And often sodium is added for shelf life extension.
The saturated fat reduces much of the health value of the nut butter. We have discussed here how polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats improve cell membranes, and thus improve cardiovascular health compared to saturated fats.
So if you're trying to find a simple way to start a high potassium foods diet, think about using nuts as a snack.
For Potassium Tables
If you are looking for tables of potassium content in food, click on the “Links To Food Potassium Tables” tab at the top of the page. It will take you to a page with links to food tables by food group.
1. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. Tan SY, Mattes RD. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Nov;67(11):1205-14. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.184. Epub 2013 Oct 2.