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How Adding Nuts to a Low-Carb Diet Boosts Mood and Burns Fat Faster: Breakthrough Study

Even researchers were surprised by the results

A big reason many of us want to lose weight is simply to feel better — happier, healthier, more at ease, more energized. Now there’s evidence a twist on low-carb eating not only help speed off fat, “it can lead to remarkable mood improvements,” says Georgia Ede, MD, Harvard-trained author of Change Your Diet, Change Your Mind. Consider this: When scientists recently put seniors on a low-carb plan enhanced with nuts, they lost 14.8 times more weight and saw mood soar 6.89 times higher compared to traditional low-calorie dieters. As a bonus, “when well-being increases that much, sustaining healthy changes becomes easier long-term,” notes Dr. Ede. Read on to learn how adding nuts to a low-carb diet can help boost mood and weight loss.

Why adding nuts to a low-carb diet can boost results

The UC-San Francisco study we just told you about got our attention because it demonstrated how much nuts seemed to help dieters in their 70s, a stage of life when many people struggle to drop pounds.

Meanwhile, other labs report similar findings. The UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, for example, set out to determine if snacking on mixed nuts “would cause weight gain due to increased calories and high-fat content,” shares lead investigator Zhaoping Li, MD. Nuts led to both weight loss and better heart health. And to everyone’s surprise, they also seemed to spark brighter moods.

Intrigued, the UCLA team conducted additional tests. Turns out, nuts, with all their fiber and polyphenol antioxidants, feed bacteria in our guts that help us make feel-good brain chemicals. “Participants in the study who ate nuts had higher levels of serotonin,” Dr. Li reveals. “When your serotonin levels are higher, you are, overall, in a happier mood.”

Related: A Serotonin Deficiency Makes You Feel Moody and Tired — Here’s How To Fix It

The connection between low-carb eating and blood sugar

When you pair nuts with low-carb eating, Dr. Ede says one of the biggest benefits comes from what you avoid — namely processed sugar and flour. “I call these ‘naked carbohydrates’ because they’ve been stripped of the fiber that slows their digestion,” she shares. Naked carbs turn instantly to blood glucose, a fancy term for sugar in the bloodstream. “Most people eat naked carbs with every meal and snack, which means exaggerated blood-sugar spikes can occur up to six times a day.”

With too little time between spikes to recover, cells get damaged in a way that makes it hard to use sugar as fuel. Your cells “can be swimming in a sea of glucose and still be slowly starving to death,” says the doc. Unused sugar overstuffs fat cells; excess sugar also triggers inflammation that causes many body systems and organs to falter.

It’s why Dr. Ede urges everyone to cut back on carbs (at least processed ones). “You’ll reduce or eliminate blood-sugar spikes,” she explains. As for nuts, they’re an easy way to add loads of beneficial nutrients to the low-carb equation, taking results to the next level. Particularly compared to processed snacks, “nuts are always a superior choice,” says Dr. Ede.

Once you make the switch to whole-food low-carb eating, good things happen. As less blood sugar is produced, you begin turning stored fat into an alternate fuel called ketones. And making ketones means “your body is finally able to burn fat as fuel,” says Dr. Ede. So it just stands to reason you lose weight faster. (Click through to learn more about ketones and the keto diet.) But there’s more to it than that.

How a low-carb diet affects mood

While nuts increase levels of serotonin, a healthy low-carb diet “helps reduce sugar spikes in your brain that pave the path for everything from minor forgetfulness and anxiety to severe depression and dementia,” says Dr. Ede, who is a practicing psychiatrist. As the spikes diminish, the effect on your brain “is more powerful than anything I’ve seen with medication alone. Even severe cases of depression that don’t respond to medication can be resolved.” And those of us with everyday blahs can find ourselves walking on air.

Dr. Ede adds that as anxiety and sadness lift, we’ll often experience relief from our urges to eat for comfort. We also have more energy to get up and live life, burning calories in the process. You set off a chain reaction of healing, wellness and bliss. “The research is really very exciting,” she says.

To get started, use a free app like Carb Manager or Cronometer to keep carbs at 40% or less of your total calories—and enjoy up to two ounces of nuts a day.

Related: “I Lost 224 Lbs — More Than Half My Size! — With This Keto Hack That Cured My Cravings”

Nuts and low-carb eating success story: Mary Ede, 90

In January 2023, Dr. Ede’s mom had fallen into a habit of “eating potatoes, macaroni and bread all the time,” admits Mary Ede, 90, who still works full-time caring for adults with disabilities. Mary’s weight and joint pain were up, she was tired a lot and was experiencing some depression. So she began replacing carb-heavy meals with protein, veggies and good fats. Her favorite nut to snack on? Cashews. “I enjoyed what I was eating, and almost right away I felt much better,” she shares.

Sticking with it, her depression lifted and her pain diminished. “It didn’t take very long and I lost 40 pounds,” she says proudly. She has this message for other women: “Give yourself two or three weeks to just try changing your diet to see what happens. I think you’ll find you feel so much better. I have more energy and more mental clarity. I don’t feel 90 years old — I really don’t. I’m thriving!”

Adding nuts to low-carb eating before and after: Ashely Malik

Before and after photos of Ashley Malik who lost 5 sizes after adding nuts to a low-carb diet
Anthony Camera

Diagnosed with prediabetes, Ashley Malik battled low energy, blue moods and weight gain. No diet seemed to help; even beginner workouts were too hard. One day, “I ended up in tears, vowing to find a better way,” recalls the Colorado grandmother, 49.

Eventually she read on the internet that replacing foods like processed grains and sugar with protein, veggies, berries and nuts could calm sugar spikes and inflammation inside her, helping her heal. She began aiming to get 40% of her calories from protein, 35% carbs, 25% fat.

Nuts were a go-to, sprinkled on coconut yogurt or salads. “The good fat helped me stay full between meals,” she recalls. “Ten days in, my body adjusted. I started losing weight and feeling happier.” She went from a size 16 to a 6 in about a year, her prediabetes gone. “Making small changes, you can be healthy, lighter and happy for the rest of your life!”

Adding nuts to a low-carb diet: Easy meal ideas

How did a group of seniors lose 15 times more weight and lift spirits 7 times higher? They ate a mostly unprocessed diet with 2 oz. or ¼ cup of nuts daily and got about 40% of their calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from fat. A free app like Cronometer makes it easy to hit the same targets and has tips to help you get started. And we’re sharing mood-boosting meal ideas to inspire you.

Sample breakfast: Nutty Low-Carb Toast

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam on Toast with Orange Juice and Milk
LauriPatterson/Getty

Top low-carb toast with any nut butter and low-sugar jam and/or fresh berries. Bonus points if you choose bread made from almond flour!

Sample lunch: Chicken Waldorf Salad

diet for depression: Waldorf salad
Image Professionals GmbH/Getty

Mix 1 cup diced celery, ½ cup diced apple or jicama, 3 oz. cooked chicken, ¼ cup pecans, ¼ cup yogurt, 2 Tbs. mayo and seasoning. Serve on greens.

Sample dinner: Caprese With Pesto

diet for depression: Zoodles Caprese, spiralized zucchini, glass noodles, pesto, plum tomatoe, mozarella balls
Westend61/Getty

Toss spiralized zucchini with warm nut-based pesto; top with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper.

Bonus recipe: Chex Mix Nuts

Two Bowls of Mixed Spiced Nuts on Blue Napkins
Image Professionals GmbH/Getty

We love this low-carb twist on the classic party snack

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups mixed nuts
  • 3 Tbs. butter, melted
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire
  • ¾  tsp. seasoned salt
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼  tsp onion powder

Instructions:

  1. Mix all ingredients in ungreased roasting pan.
  2. Bake for 1 hour at 250ºF, stirring every 15 minutes.
  3. Spread on paper towels to cool. Makes 12 oz. nuts

Click through for more stories on women using low-carb plans to transform their bodies:

Top Doc Reveals the Secrets of Women Who’ve Lost 150 Lbs With No Loose Skin

Protein Bread for Weight Loss: “Here’s the Recipe That Helped Me Drop 70 lbs at Age 69”

“I Lost 224 Lbs — More Than Half My Size! — With This Keto Hack That Cured My Cravings”

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