When people say they want to lose weight, oftentimes they immediately start thinking about juice cleanses and restrictive diets. As a registered dietitian for almost 20 years, I have seen it all when it comes to weight-loss strategies (and gimmicks). I know how quickly cutting foods out of your diet or swapping a meal with a nasty beverage can backfire.
Instead of taking away beloved foods when trying to manage weight, I'm a big proponent of finding foods to add to your diet for positive results. And one food that has proven to be a weight-management superstar is the humble walnut. Yes, that little nut you find sprinkled on top of your salad or used as decor on a cheese board is actually a powerhouse when it comes to nutrition. Walnuts are chock-full of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and plant-based proteins.
While I always knew that walnuts are a great source of nutrients, I never really thought of them as a weight-loss food until I personally saw what happened to my body after eating a handful of them every day this past month. In my home, walnuts are a mainstay; I use them as an ingredient while baking and as a topping for things like yogurt. But when I received a holiday gift that was equivalent to a lifetime supply of shelled walnuts, I quickly started noshing on them every day — simply as a means to go through them and free up space in my pantry.
Snacking on a handful of walnuts while prepping dinner for my family became a ritual for me. I would snag a small handful of walnuts and slowly enjoy them about 30 minutes before dinner was served. Without really thinking about what this daily practice was doing to my body, I was shocked to discover that without making any other changes to my diet or lifestyle, I was eating less food at dinner, felt more satisfied, and actually dropped some weight!
How Do Walnuts Help Support Weight Loss?
My accidental walnut experiment motivated me to see if there's something to walnuts and weight loss. Turns out, there are actual studies that show how including walnuts in your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.
For starters, walnuts are an anti-inflammatory food, meaning eating them has been linked to lower inflammation markers. Because chronic inflammation can make weight control more challenging to attain, focusing on anti-inflammatory foods like walnuts can help keep both inflammation and weight gain at bay.
Also, because these nuts have a natural combination of healthy fats, plant-based protein, and fiber — three factors that can help promote satiety — eating them can help curb your hunger and help you avoid overeating when dinnertime comes around.
The polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods like walnuts are known as "healthy" fats. Eating them is linked to greater satiety compared with eating other fats like saturated fats. In one study published in BMC Nutrition, people had improved fat metabolism after consuming a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, including walnuts.
The protein found in these nuts doesn't hurt, either. A study published in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that protein preloads, or eating a protein-rich snack (like walnuts!) before a meal, result in greater satisfaction and less overeating. In other words, loading up with protein-rich foods like walnuts can do exactly what your mama always warned against: spoil your appetite. And a spoiled appetite can help you make more mindful choices instead of shoveling food into your mouth because you are too hungry to think.
Eating a handful of walnuts every day was a simple way to help manage my appetite, and in turn, my weight, in a healthy way. By adding just a handful of these nuts to my diet every evening before dinner, I was able to cut my hunger and give my body a boost of anti-inflammatory goodness with very little effort. While they won't be a magic bullet for everyone, there's little downside to adding a handful of walnuts to your day. What's the worst that can happen? You don't lose weight but you fuel your body with healthy fats and fiber? There are certainly worse things you can do to yourself.