Disclosure: I love nuts. In fact, I eat peanut butter on a whole grain English muffin nearly every day. I always add walnuts to my homemade granola and healthy-version of oatmeal cookies. I pack nuts in my briefcase when I head out of town. And, yesterday I had a handful of pistachios as a snack. So, I’m not bashing nuts.
But, I’ve heard this story (or a similar version of this story), that I thought I’d share it with you…just in case you’re falling into this unhealthy/unbalanced nutrition trap, too.
The other day I was speaking to a group of business executives about how to have more energy. And, as usual, there were the usual number of low carb fans.
We were talking about the importance of having small amounts of protein on a regular basis to rebuild the body, and (as I mentioned in this recent youtube video), how the body uses an equal amount of carbs and fat as fuel (50/50). So, if you don’t eat enough carbs to produce glucose (remember, the brain and those red blood cells that transport oxygen to the rest of our body ONLY run on glucose), the body will break down protein – to turn it into glucose…because producing enough energy to keep this human body alive will always be more important than building muscles.
During the break, one woman shared with me that she had recently put on a few pounds and was always hungry. She told me she was snacking on nuts and peanut butter between meals – and was wondering if that was healthy. Again, yes, nuts are healthy….but the appropriateness depends on how much you’re eating.
For some reason people tend to think of nuts as high protein foods, when in fact, most of the calories (around 70%) come from fat, while only 14% is protein (the rest is carbs). And as the saying goes, it’s hard to eat just one…or one handful. And, one handful, the amount of shelled nuts you can fit into a closed fist is about ¼ cup or about 200 calories worth. How many handfuls can you eat in one sitting?
I asked this woman to tell me what she ate on a typical day. Using MyFitnessPal (a smart phone app), I inputted her day’s foods (including many handfuls of nuts and peanut butter by the spoonful) and this is what it showed…she was getting enough protein, very little carbs, and more than 60% of her calories were coming from fat! For comparison, a healthier range is about 20-30% protein, 45-65% carbs, and 20-35% fat.
What’s the problem in eating a diet containing 61% fat? Here are just some:
- It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to burn all those fat calories (meaning that they’ll get stored as fat). That’s because the body burns 50% fat and 50% glucose. Fat can NOT be changed into glucose.
- The body will end up changing some of that protein into glucose to fuel the brain.
- Fat isn’t filling. Research studies show that protein is the most filling, followed by carbs, and lastly fat. So it’s easy to overeat on a high fat diet.
- Too much fat can be fattening. While carbs and proteins have just 4 calories per gram, fats have NINE. That’s why a handful of nuts can pack 200 calories – fats are dense sources of calories.
- A high fat diet tends to be low carb. And, while there are many low carb fans out there, I’m not one. Since the human body runs on 50% glucose, carbs are the best source. Otherwise, the body needs to break down protein to turn it into glucose. And, the more active we are, the more carbs we need, since active muscles prefer glucose, too. While people often say they avoid carbs because they’re “addictive”, much of their addictive nature comes from the fact that people don’t balance their nutrition throughout the day (as I discuss in my latest book, REBOOT).
- It’s likely to be deficient in many nutrients. A high fat diet tends to be low in fiber-filling fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (and all their related nutrients). Sure, nuts have fiber but even with all the handfuls she eating, she got just 15g fiber (recommendations are 25-30g). While MyFitnessPal doesn’t include all the nutrients, it was clear that her diet was deficient in vitamin C and calcium.
Yes, nuts are healthy, but sometimes too much of a good thing is, well….simply too much. Check out my healthy snack ideas on my Pinterest board.