Common wisdom is that a calorie is a calorie—for example, 500 calories worth of vegetables is the same as 500 calories worth of ice cream, they just have very different nutrient profiles. But a new study is challenging that assumption when it comes to almonds.
Research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings looked at 22 men and women with high cholesterol who undertook a series of dietary interventions over a three-month period.
Two of the interventions involved almonds, eaten for seven consecutive days, and researchers tracked how much of those calories became “bioaccessible,” which means they were absorbed fully through the digestive system. A third intervention used muffins that matched the almonds in terms of fiber, protein, and fat content.
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They found that after digestion, about 20% of the calories related to fat in the almonds were not absorbed in the digestive tract. This means the almond-associated calories consumed didn’t match up with how many calories actually got absorbed in the body. Also, study participants didn’t gain weight despite taking in more fat and calories from almonds.
Although the recent study was limited due to its modest number of participants, previous research has found similar results, according to the study’s lead author, John Sievenpiper, MD, PhD, in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto.
“There seems to be a bioaccessibility issue with nuts, as other researchers have shown,” he says. “A calorie labeled may not be a calorie absorbed, and that may change the perception that nuts are healthy but should be eaten in moderation due to high fat and calorie content.”
He adds that using participants with high cholesterol was important since people with that issue tend to shy away from eating nuts due to concerns about fat content, as well as weight gain.
“Almonds have been shown to help with lowering cholesterol and with cardiometabolic health,” says Sievenpiper. “In addition, they provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, making them a good choice for a healthy diet.”
That means if you’ve been counting out your almonds and trying to limit your calories based on their stated amount, you may be able to give yourself a bump in consumption without risking additional calorie intake. Both your waistline and your heart will thank you for it.
For more, be sure to check out Healthy Foods Dietitians Say You Should Be Eating Every Day.