Testing the Pistachio Principle

Testing the Pistachio Principle
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If the fecal fat losses associated with undigested pieces of nuts (due to inadequate chewing), and the tedium of shelling them in the first place, help account for why nuts don’t tend to lead to weight gain, then studies on nut butters would presumably turn out differently.

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Both the pistachio principle and the fecal excretion theory were put to the test recently, by studying the effects of peanut processing on body weight. Let’s feed a bunch of people a half cup of peanuts every day for a month, and another group we’ll feed the same amount of nuts—but we’ll grind them into peanut butter first.

So, half a cup of peanuts’ worth of peanuts, versus peanut butter. And, that was added on top of whatever else they were eating in their regular diet. So, calorie-wise, at the end of the month, they should have put on a few pounds.

Well, as we saw before, in the whole-nut peanut group, that just didn’t happen. But, that’s why we have the peanut butter group, right? Not a lot of shelling or crunching necessary with peanut butter. And, the cell walls of the peanuts were all ground up; all the oil released and made available for absorption. And, they didn’t go extra chunky; this was smooth peanut butter.

So, if the reason people don’t gain weight on nuts is because of all that chewing, or fecal fat loss, then the prediction would be that although the whole-nut group may not pile on the pounds, the peanut butter group definitely would. But, they didn’t. Neither group gained the expected weight.

The plot thickens. Next, we’ll explore the dietary compensation theory.

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.

Images thanks to Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons, and Newbirth35 via flickr

Both the pistachio principle and the fecal excretion theory were put to the test recently, by studying the effects of peanut processing on body weight. Let’s feed a bunch of people a half cup of peanuts every day for a month, and another group we’ll feed the same amount of nuts—but we’ll grind them into peanut butter first.

So, half a cup of peanuts’ worth of peanuts, versus peanut butter. And, that was added on top of whatever else they were eating in their regular diet. So, calorie-wise, at the end of the month, they should have put on a few pounds.

Well, as we saw before, in the whole-nut peanut group, that just didn’t happen. But, that’s why we have the peanut butter group, right? Not a lot of shelling or crunching necessary with peanut butter. And, the cell walls of the peanuts were all ground up; all the oil released and made available for absorption. And, they didn’t go extra chunky; this was smooth peanut butter.

So, if the reason people don’t gain weight on nuts is because of all that chewing, or fecal fat loss, then the prediction would be that although the whole-nut group may not pile on the pounds, the peanut butter group definitely would. But, they didn’t. Neither group gained the expected weight.

The plot thickens. Next, we’ll explore the dietary compensation theory.

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.

Images thanks to Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons, and Newbirth35 via flickr

Doctor's Note

This is the third of a seven-part 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. Next, we hit Testing the Dietary Compensation Theory, and then, Testing the Fat-Burning Theory. Even if peanut butter doesn’t result in the expected weight gain, Is Peanut Butter Good For You?

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Nuts Don’t Cause Expected Weight Gain; and The Best Nutrition Bar.

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

37 responses to “Testing the Pistachio Principle

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  1. This is the third of an 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 in yesterday’s video-of-the-day. Tomorrow we’ll hit Testing the Dietary Compensation Theory and then Testing the Fat Burning Theory. Even if peanut butter doesn’t result in the expected weight gain, Is Peanut Butter Good For You?. If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.




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  2. I love this series! I am one of those people who didn’t gain when I added nuts, seeds avos and olives and other healthful fats to my diet. Even more astounding, I lost pounds. It completely turned my world upside down! It’s exciting to learn this stuff :^)




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    1. Me too. I eat healthful fats from whole foods and I don’t gain weight with them at all, but oil does me in! They don’t seem to affect heart risk either by my understand of these videos. I eat raw nuts mostly in cooking. I think if you eat nuts roasted and covered with oil, or I you sit an finish a whole can of nuts in one sitting then I’m sure there will be weight gain….unless you’re so full you can’t eat much of anything else…hmmmm




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      1.  I wonder if the roasted nuts contribute to weight gain? Interesting. I know they form acrylamides, so are not desirable. I also wonder if they lose nutrients. I concur — hmmmm…. :^) 




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      2.  April, Strix, Greenleaf, et al, I’m jealous of you. I added just 1/4 cup of raw almonds plus 1/4 of an avocado to my diet and the poundage started adding on. In addition, I just got the results of my latest blood test. My Cholesterol was 191. Last year it was 159. I hope that’s just a fluke- an odd daily fluctuation. So, I’ve decided to cut out nuts except for one Brazil nut a day for the selenium plus 1 tablespoon of flax seeds. Hope it makes a difference on the scale and at my physical next year.




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        1.  What was the rest of your diet,though? You can’t add all that on top of a poor or even moderate diet. You also have to exercise.
          Best wishes, and since you mentioned Dr. Fuhrman, you should follow his plan; not just random recipes or recommendations out of context. IT’s worth it, Jeff! :^)




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          1.  I’m sure my diet is much like yours: lots of fresh and frozen fruits, steamed and raw vegetables, lentils, a few whole grains such as rolled oats and barley, mushrooms, onions, garlic, dark leafy greens, berries- and not oils, fats, or animal products.




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    2. Strix, same here. Small amounts of seeds, nuts, or an avocado slice or a couple of olives with vegan lunch or dinner = increased flavor and satisfaction, and no weight gain. Favorite treats: warm brown rice and avocado slice; toasted sprouted whole grain bread and a kalamata or sicilian green olive. Nirvana bliss dessert: walnut piece and soft caramelly tasting date. 
      BTW, here in CA we overindulge in the summer in fresh fruit, organic and plentiful and intensely flavorful. Overeat like crazy: berries of every kind, several varieties of plums, peaches, nectarines, melons, figs, grapes, but don’t gain any weight.
      A calorie is not a calorie. 




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      1. You are so right! Calories from gummy bears are nasty! 

        Greenleaf the way you describe CA makes me think we live in paradise! I need to hit the farmers market! 




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        1. Cali IS paradise…my son used to live in San Francisco…awww…totally off the chain there for good foods and good health! If I *ever* win the lotto, I will buy a small place in California.




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        2. Veganrunner — Valnaples is so right, CA is paradise. If you’ve been neglecting the farmers markets you must be spoiled native who takes them for granted. Or else you’re out on the trails enjoying the perfect weather. The apricots are gone for the season, but so much late summer produce still to look forward to. So be there or be square, dude.




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      2.  As a SoCali, myself, I know exactly what you mean. The melons are  awesome, too! I’m really spoiled — unlike my fruit :^)

        And the calorie is not a calorie thing is so true. It used to baffle me when I’d read that, that was a “truism” of nutrition because it was not my experience. Then when studies like this started trickling out, I felt at least a little less kooky ;^) If on a low-nutrient diet, as I was, I gained from eating fat.




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  3. Doctors, if I use chia seeds and flaxmeal in baking at 350 F for 30-40 min., do I create something unwanted, like trans-fats, free radicals, etc… and destroy any nutrients in the process. Thank you.




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  4. Thank you very much.  I look at these videos as soon as they show up in my in box.  You are doing such great work and is a great asset to our society.

    Janet




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  5. My concern about this research is that in the author disclosures the author states: Richard D Mattes received research support pertinent to this
    work from the United States Agency for International Development
    Peanut Cooperative Research Support Program (LAG-G-
    00-96-00013-00) and the Almond Board of California.
    I believe it is a conflict of interest to accept support from the Almond Board of California and the IDPC.   




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    1.  You are correct to look at the funding sources for scientific research. Of course the studies could be well done. However, there are examples of poor science, statistics and even outright fraud in studies that seem to occur more in studies funded by corporations or where the authors of the studies have conflicts of interest. Unfortunately it can take years and occasionally some law suits for all the facts to come to light. That is one reason to stay tuned to NutritionFacts.org as the science keeps coming…




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  6. Go to vegsource.com, w/their research on nuts at this time, too, & their finding that the studies having a connection to nut co’s find NO wt. gain, but those w/no connections do. Hmmmmmm!  Personally, I’m wondering if BMI may have anything to do w/it?  I’m a little “scrawny” 5’4 & 115, & hearing that walnuts were so good, I started eating a handful a day, no other changes.  My cholesterol shot up 36 pts, & 10 pounds (!!!!) came on in no time before I realized–NUTS!!!  Or could it be 58 YO & female??  All interresting research variables.




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  7. I’ve felt a little guilty about my whole grain cracker, with pb & a little jam at work mid-morning, but it really tides me over till lunch. I also put about a tablespoon of walnuts on my morning cereal. So it appears as long as I stay with raw nuts, whether ground or whole I’m OK. My cholesterol was 107 the last I had it tested, so it certainly doesn’t adversely effect that.




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  8. Dr. Greger,
    vegsource.com is running a “crusade” against nuts accusing the studies that show no obesity effect of being biased and funded by nuts industry. Woud you like to comment on that?




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    1.  I wouldn’t characterize it as a crusade, but just their honest evaluation of the facts. It’s true that they’re critical of some of the research, but then again, much of the research is poorly done and paid for by corporations that want to promote their products and as a result, bias is sure to be present. 




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    2. Massimo,

      Didn`t Dr Greger in the first “nut-video” tell that the research was funded by the nut-industri? If I rember correctly. So there are no secrets….

      I guess many studies are paid by various interest-groups – pharmaceutical industri and the drugs (and many of these drugs work despite this fact! :-) ) etc. Of course you have to think of bias, and read all kind of science with scepticism. But I still find these results interesting.

      And the comment section here clearly demonstrates, that the “audience” here are very capable of independent thinking, so I have absolutely no problems with the presentation af these studies.




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    3. Thanks for posting! 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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  9. It’s been fresh fruit season here in Israel too, we go to the open market each week and stock up on watermelon, peaches and nectarines, and lots of mangos. Mango madness indeed!
    As for the nut conundrum, we also eat a Brazil nut a day for the selenium and about an ounce (28gr) of raw walnuts a day.  We also have peanut butter or tahina in small amounts occasionally. We haven’t noticed any drastic weight gain. Strix makes a valid point, if the rest of your diet is plant-strong then a daily small amount of nuts should be alright.




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  10. Wow… interesting… with my VitaMix I usually have macadamia butter, peanut butter and mixed-nut butter in the fridge (all home made, no additives… just nuts!) – Nothing is better than fresh (and warm! – yum) macadamia butter :oP`




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  11. Except peanuts are NOT nuts. Not by any stretch of the imagination. They are legumes. Just one look at a peanut farm and a nut orchard and the difference is instantly obvious. Also, nothing was said about whether the peanuts were heated before being eaten. Most nuts (pistachios are an exception) are very tasty to most people, right off the tree and out of the shell. You don’t have to cook them. Peanuts are kind of much tastier when roasted. The marketing of these foods reflects these facts. Raw peanuts are rarely if ever for sale in retail markets; raw nuts are frequently for sale.




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  12. This is a bad practice of habitual over eaters. I would (and do) avoid nuts. Over consumption of nuts leads to constipation in certain people. The calories (fat) end up in the butt so you are constipated!




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    1. Check out this research which suggests that you may actually consume less at your next meal if you include nuts in your morning smoothie: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/testing-the-dietary-compensation-theory/ It may not be a good idea to avoid nuts as they are a source of plant-based fiber. People with diverticulosis were previously instructed to avoid nuts however, it is a good source of fiber which actually prevents constipation. See http://nutritionfacts.org/video/diverticulosis-nuts/ Constipation is a major public healthy concern and the real causes can be found here: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/waistline-expanding-food/




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      1. I am learning to enjoy nuts which I keep in my freezer. I love pecans and walnuts (without oil or salt). We all change. I believe it rounds my diet out so to get proper calories. Thank you for your encouragement.




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    1. I am curious if soak increases absorption. Beyond weight gain. I notice that the fat in nuts can constipate, I do wonder if soaking would help.




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