I eat a handful of almonds a day because they are "healthy fat" and the crunch and taste are so good. But I have always wondered about the caloric intake and how it might adversely affect my constant focus on weight loss. I am happy to report on a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that shows what we thought we knew about almonds and their effect on weight may be all wrong.
The objective of the study was to determine the energy value of almonds in the human diet and compare it with the value calculated from prior known measures known as "Atwater factors." The Atwater system has been used for over 100 years and nutritionists and government labeling of foods have depended upon it to predict fat digestibility, heat combustion and caloric content of foods. The Atwater measurements have influenced the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and this reference is used to report on protein, fat and carbohydrates contained in a serving of almonds.
These researchers found that the directly measured digestibility of fat and carbohydrates in the diet were actually decreased when almonds were eaten daily with the food. These fell far below the Atwater predicted values, which had overestimated the energy content by 32%. This means rather than adding calories, simply adding a handful of almonds to my diet could result in more than a pound of weight loss a month.
In summary, the way we have been measuring and reporting calories, carbohydrate and fat consumption may be wrong for other foods as well as nuts. The nutrient labels that guide us use the Atwater general factors but these researchers found, in the case of almonds, that those labels may be off as much as 26%. The new method used in this study to measure the energy value of a single food is a significant improvement over past methods and older inaccurate methods may need to be revised so we actually know that labels are correct.
I look forward to more studies on nutrition that single out my favorite foods and show they are not fattening.
This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.