Testing the Dietary Compensation Theory

Testing the Dietary Compensation Theory
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An elegant study is presented, testing the appetite-suppressing effects of walnuts.

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Maybe the reason why 90% of the relevant studies show no weight gain from nut consumption is that nuts are so satisfying, so satiating, so appetite-suppressing, that throughout the rest of the day, totally unconsciously, we just eat less.

So, if researchers add a handful of nuts to our daily diet, totaling 200 calories, and they were just so filling that it displaced 200 calories of something else we would have normally eaten, then that could explain how, you know, one can remain in energy balance—even though they just added a calorically dense food, like nuts, to one’s daily diet. And hey, if you felt so satisfied you unintentionally ended up eating 250 calories less each day, then that could explain why, in a few of the nut studies, people actually lost weight.

Recently, they tested walnuts. “It has been proposed, mainly on the basis of observational studies, that nuts may provide superior satiation, may lead to reduced calorie consumption,…but evidence from randomized, interventional studies is lacking.” Until now.

They double-blinded the study by disguising the walnuts in a smoothie. “The walnut-containing liquid meal contained…walnuts,…frozen mango,…frozen strawberries,…banana,…frozen berries, and…pineapple juice.” Sounds good. Whereas the placebo liquid meal contained oil, mango, strawberries, banana, berries, and juice, and “40 drops of walnut flavoring.” In fact, they made it so you literally couldn’t tell the difference, in blind taste tests. And, they were made with the exact same number of calories. So, if there was nothing special about nuts, then you should feel just as satiated either way.

But, no. After a few days on the placebo, the walnut-flavored smoothie people just felt something was missing. Everyone drank their smoothies at breakfast, and then, right before lunch, the folks that didn’t get the real nuts felt significantly less full, less satiated—even after the no-chewing and full-fat absorption.

So, you can see how if you had nuts for breakfast, you may very well unintentionally eat a smaller lunch than you otherwise would—and so, in this way, nuts could actually decrease daily caloric consumption.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Maybe the reason why 90% of the relevant studies show no weight gain from nut consumption is that nuts are so satisfying, so satiating, so appetite-suppressing, that throughout the rest of the day, totally unconsciously, we just eat less.

So, if researchers add a handful of nuts to our daily diet, totaling 200 calories, and they were just so filling that it displaced 200 calories of something else we would have normally eaten, then that could explain how, you know, one can remain in energy balance—even though they just added a calorically dense food, like nuts, to one’s daily diet. And hey, if you felt so satisfied you unintentionally ended up eating 250 calories less each day, then that could explain why, in a few of the nut studies, people actually lost weight.

Recently, they tested walnuts. “It has been proposed, mainly on the basis of observational studies, that nuts may provide superior satiation, may lead to reduced calorie consumption,…but evidence from randomized, interventional studies is lacking.” Until now.

They double-blinded the study by disguising the walnuts in a smoothie. “The walnut-containing liquid meal contained…walnuts,…frozen mango,…frozen strawberries,…banana,…frozen berries, and…pineapple juice.” Sounds good. Whereas the placebo liquid meal contained oil, mango, strawberries, banana, berries, and juice, and “40 drops of walnut flavoring.” In fact, they made it so you literally couldn’t tell the difference, in blind taste tests. And, they were made with the exact same number of calories. So, if there was nothing special about nuts, then you should feel just as satiated either way.

But, no. After a few days on the placebo, the walnut-flavored smoothie people just felt something was missing. Everyone drank their smoothies at breakfast, and then, right before lunch, the folks that didn’t get the real nuts felt significantly less full, less satiated—even after the no-chewing and full-fat absorption.

So, you can see how if you had nuts for breakfast, you may very well unintentionally eat a smaller lunch than you otherwise would—and so, in this way, nuts could actually decrease daily caloric consumption.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

This is the fourth of a seven-video series on a fascinating phenomenon—why don’t nuts make us fat? I reviewed the balance of evidence in Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence, and introduced two theories in Solving the Mystery of the Missing Calories—both of which were not well supported by a study on peanut butter, which I detailed in Testing the Pistachio Principle. We finally seem to be getting somewhere, though we still haven’t accounted for all the missing calories. Next, we’ll check out the Testing the Fat-Burning Theory. For my crazy breakfast smoothie concoction, see A Better Breakfast.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Nuts Don’t Cause Expected Weight GainThe Best Nutrition Bar; and Diet vs. Exercise: What’s More Important?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

37 responses to “Testing the Dietary Compensation Theory

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  1. This is the fourth of a seven-video series on the fascinating phenomenon of Solving the Mystery of the Missing Calories—why don’t nuts make us fat? I review the balance of evidence in Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence and introduced two theories on Monday, both of which were not well supported by a study on peanut butter I detailed in yesterday’s video-of-the-day Testing the Pistachio Principle. But we finally seem to be getting somewhere! We still haven’t accounted for all the missing calories, though. Tomorrow we’ll check out the Testing the Fat Burning Theory. For my crazy breakfast smoothie concoction see A Better Breakfast. And if you haven’t yet, please feel free to subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.




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    1. And I thought it was just the Oatmeal effect.  Glad I have my three walnuts in my oatmeal every morning.

      But could it be both?  The WalMeal effect!




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          1.  We can all be a little nuts in the morning, but that nuttiness can get us through the day!
            Dr HemoDynamic illustrates a good point here, when we pay attention to how much, or many, of something we’re eating we can guard against the senseless eating that can derail a healthy diet.




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              1. Veganrunner,

                Never heard of chia seeds, but just googled and was impressed by all the claims about its health promoting properties, which if only partially true would still be amazing. Liked this: “Chia . . . looks cute (like tiny dinosaur eggs) . . . besides which it has an off-the-scale nutritional profile. . . .” What do dinosaur eggs look like?

                Do you find it boosts your endurance? How do you eat your chia seeds? 




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                1. Hi Elderberry,

                  I add them to everything. My smoothies, oatmeal, salads. You can make a pudding which I haven’t tried yet. You can add them to drinks and after awhile they start to germinate and get this soft covering and the kids think that is cool. One night I had a group of teanagers adding them to iced tea, hibiscus tea and coconut water.  There isn’t much taste just a crunch. You know how hemp seeds add an earthy taste? These are pretty tasteless in comparison. 




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                2. Sorry missed boosts endurance question. I don’t know about that. I eat so many different seeds, nuts, etc I wouldn’t be able to tell. I will tell you though after a smoothy with various kind of seeds I have gotten a bit manic! Serotonin effect? 




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                  1. Tks, veganrunner. Read that chia seeds were eaten by Aztec runners, who could then go for the day without stopping. Surely a story invented by marketers; still, can the slight manic effect be from chia? Going to try it myself.




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                3. Best way to eat them is to soak 5-6 table spoons in a 1/2 a container of almond milk (or make your own). Stir frequently for the first hour (say ever 10 mins and an initial good mix) to stop clumping and ensure you’ve added enough seeds. Once it starts approaching a custard like thickness, consume or chill overnight to thicken up even more.

                  They turn into a sago like texture, which makes an excellent healthy base to add fruit / nut etc for an excellent dessert!

                  I’d be curious as to how well chia seeds are digested when they are merely sprinkled. Anyone know?




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  2. Sounds good to me. My daily lunch salad of mixed greens and vegetables (some garbanzo beans thrown in) would normally leave me wanting to eat again in three hours. But with a teaspoon of ground flax seed and some seeds or a few walnut pieces, I can go for several hours before feeling hungry again. We all need to practice moderation and discipline at the table, and in a healthy vegan diet, seeds and nuts are useful for flavor, satiation, and nutrition. 

    If committed meat eaters want help in cutting back to very small portions, why not add beans and legumes and some seeds and nuts to meals and see what happens? 




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  3. Makes perfect sense to me. No question about it. If I eat only vegetables and fruit I am grabbing for that handful of nuts. They take the hunger away. The oil in the nuts is satisfying so I don’t keep grazing. Plus, they are healthy. Can’t beat that combination!




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    1. I do agree.  So many raw foodists I follow, say that eating the nuts will lower my energy, but without a little fat, I am cold and tired.  I think it’s a tradeoff.  If I have some avo in my eve salad, I don’t have a lot of nuts. I do like the chia in the morning and either some kind of raw, organic, non pasturized nuts in my salad.  Yum!




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  4. Have you had a chance to look at Jeff Nelson’s post on nuts and weight gain? http://www.vegsource.com/news/2012/08/nuts-weight-gain-its-worse-than-we-thought.html
    Would you, please, be so kind as to either debunk what he is saying or validate it? He cites some of the same studies that you do, but derives quite a different conclusion.  Thanks much!
    — Confused about nuts.




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    1. Kathleen, 

      What is your experience with nuts? Maybe that will help with your confusion. Obviously Dr. Greger is a fan of nuts. If you look under browse all topics you will see what a fan he is. When studies are performed not everyone maintains their weight, gains or loses. Statistically people are not gaining. Just about every study out there can be torn apart. Look at the China Study. People love to tear that one apart. 

      If your appetite doesn’t end up adjusting to the 250 calories you consume with nuts then don’t eat them. 

      And who is Jeff Nelson anyhow and why does he have a beef with nuts? 




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    2. Sorry for your confusion! Please see my new note at Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence:

      “Note: I updated the video on August 25, 2012. I am indebted to Jeff Nelson for pointing out my mischaracterization of the 2007 Natoli & McCoy review. I’ve not only corrected the video, but expanded it (by 8 minutes!) to cover all of the studies published in the 5 years since. The evidence is stronger than ever that the consumption of nuts does not lead to the weight gain one would expect.”




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  5. Yes, if there is anyone who drinks oil for breakfast they would do better switching to nuts. The usefulness in the study is compromised by its failure to match the nuts, particularly in protein and fiber.




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    1. Your suggestion makes no sense. Same amount of energy in the 2 smoothies, and the point is exactly that the composition of the nut (fat, protein, carbs, fiber, nutrients ) makes you feel full.




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  6. Hi James,

    I have hemp seeds shelled, sesame seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. I have almonds, walnuts, cashews, and brazil nuts. I use the cashew and hemp to make milk in the blender. Either one works for me. There is so much waste when I make almond milk that I have given that up. I can make a pretty good latte’ with cashew milk. 

    I make a daily smoothy and include some combination of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, amla, broccoli, spinach, hibiscus tea, cocoa nibs, and a combo of seeds or nuts. Then throughout the day I may grab a small handful of pumpkin seeds, or walnuts. If I am having oatmeal I will add seeds and nuts and hemp milk or cashew milk. 

    Hemp seeds are great as a snack. I just find nuts and seeds very satisfying. I generally don’t cook with them but I have had a vegan walnut meatloaf that is to die for! 




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      1. With this diet – she/he will live to be 100 years old and also be less dependent on the medical system and wake up every day feeling fantastic.

        It is so worth the effort to go on a well-planned plant based diet!




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  7. Thanks for the great video, Dr. Greger. May I ask, did the study only continue for the 4 days that it seemed to in the chart? Also, it looked like satiation levels by the end of the last day were getting back down to where they started. Could that mean that nuts are great, but if you have them every day they end up having no impact on satiation levels?
    I would love to know more. I certainly eat a handful of mixed nuts when I need a fillup.




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  8. So true! I know for a fact that when I put walnuts or pecans in my oats, I stay full longer.  Also when I have my pumpkin seed/low sodium V-8 snack,(usually on days when I do NOT have my oats/nuts for breakfast) I really am not hungry for lunch until much later in the afternoon. Yesterday, I didn’t really want any lunch until 2:30 and it was a very small lunch (all fresh vegetables with some hummus). NICE video, thank you Dr. Greger!!!!!




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  9. I guess we’d be nuts not to eat nuts!  But seriously, great information dispelling myth that plant-based diets are going to be so carb and calorie laden, because of things like nuts and grains, that weight gain will occur.  The fog is clearing with all the information you provide here.  Thank you for all you do! 




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  10. Hi my name is brandon i was told to put my question here I am trying to compile a list of all the nutrients the human body needs daily to be healthy and so i was hoping you can help me get that list if its based on weight size and age i am 206lbs 6ft 1 and 20yrs old if you can also add in all the amino acids the body needs as well that would be awesome




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    1. Tough ask! I suggest checking out the Institute of Medicine nutrient guidelines. That is where I go to reference macro and micronutrient quantities. I also have a chart of all micronutrients needed give me your email or write us privately and I can share.




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