Instead of diet pills, can we actually use walnuts for weight loss? It may sound far-fetched, but it’s an exciting technique being developed at Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Inspired by earlier research that found dieters were far less hungry when their menus included walnuts, a team led by Christos Mantzoros, MD, PhD, used MRI testing to help figure out why.
The result: On days when participants sipped walnut smoothies, an area of their brains that suppresses hunger and cravings literally lit up. When the same test subjects sipped walnut-free smoothies, their appetite-control centers remained dark and inactive. "This is a powerful measure," Dr. Mantzoros says. "We know there’s no ambiguity in terms of study results." Ultimately, he and his team hope to use their findings "to develop new medications to make it easier for people to keep weight down."
While that will require more studies and many years, experts encourage us to take advantage of walnuts’ amazing appetite-control power right now. In fact, Extreme Transformation (Amazon, $9.80) author Chris Powell — who routinely helps folks lose 200 pounds or more — has created a walnut-based strategy that’s already working wonders. “It’s one of the most powerful 'body hacks' to conquer cravings and overeating — not only during the holidays but forever,” he promises Woman’s World. Readers back him up. Powell’s walnut trick helped them shed up to eight pounds a week without cutting out indulgences. By using walnuts for weight loss, how much could you lose?
Are walnuts good for weight loss?
What you eat: Before any two meals daily, enjoy seven to eight walnut halves. Wait 15 to 30 minutes, drink a glass of water, and dig in. “After that, just stop eating as you begin to feel full," says Powell.
How walnuts slim: Mantzoros and his team believe future studies will reveal which compounds in walnuts activate appetite-control areas of the brain. For now, Harvard research has already shown that walnuts influence our body chemistry in a way that slashes overall hunger in as little as three days. There’s also separate evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts may prompt our bodies to burn fat faster.
Powell’s walnut strategy offers another slimming advantage. He uses all good fat in walnuts to help mimic the effect of lap-band surgery. It works like this: As good fat begins to move through the digestive tract, “it triggers a valve at the bottom of the stomach — called the pyloric sphincter — to constrict," Powell explains. The water Powell has you drink before your meal gets trapped in your stomach and goes a long way toward filling you up, so you’ll naturally consume fewer calories. This trick also slows digestion overall, so your body can’t convert the carbs you eat into blood sugar as quickly. "The strongest cravings we experience are triggered by sudden surges and dips in blood sugar," Powell notes. "Use walnuts wisely, and it gets you off the blood-sugar roller coaster, so you experience real relief from the urge to grab every pretzel and cookie in sight."
Walnuts for Weight Loss Diet
Our nutrition team created these sample menus based on food journals from readers who used a pre-meal dose of walnuts to slim down. They’re intended as inspiration, and you’re encouraged to eat what you enjoy. As an alternative to eating walnuts out of hand before meals, sip a Maple Walnut Smoothie (recipe found below) 15 to 30 minutes before your two largest meals each day, and then drink a full glass of water before you begin your meal. When you eat, pay attention to your body; you should begin to feel full much more quickly. Aim to stop eating as soon as you feel lightly full. As always, get a doctor’s OK before trying any new weight-loss strategy.
Breakfast, Choose One Daily
Option 1: 5 Christmas cookies or a slice of cake with 1 banana
Option 2: Protein-enriched cereal, milk with fresh fruit
Option 3: Whole-wheat English muffin or whole-wheat bagel thins, reduced-fat cream cheese with fresh fruit, such as an apple or peach
Pre-lunch walnut boost
7-8 walnut halves or 1 Maple-Walnut Smoothie (wait 15-30 minutes, drink a glass of water, then enjoy your meal)
In blender, blitz nuts and oats to a fine powder; add almond milk, espresso, salt, stevia, and extracts. Whip to combine. Add ice to taste and blitz again; serve immediately. Makes one 161-calorie drink.
Lunch, Choose One Daily
Option 1: Turkey chili and cornbread with honey butter
Option 2: Burger King chicken fries with a side salad
Option 3: 6-inch meatball sub sandwich, bag of chips
Option 4: Supermarket sushi with brown rice and edamame with a side salad, ginger dressing
Pre-dinner walnut boost
7-8 walnut halves or 1 Maple-Walnut Smoothie (after eating, wait 15-30 minutes, drink a glass of water, then enjoy your meal)
Dinner, Choose One Daily
Option 1: Chinese takeout: cashew chicken with veggies and brown rice
Option 2: Party buffet: a few hors d’oeuvres, chicken parmesan, pasta, broccoli
Option 3: Meat loaf, steamed veggies, buttered corn
Option 4: Herbed salmon prepared with olive oil, green beans, wild rice pilaf
Option 1: Frozen hot chocolate or peppermint ice cream
Option 2: Cheese log with crackers
Option 3: Chex mix or pretzels with dip
Option 4: A brownie or square of fudge
Make Your Own Menus
Choose what you love, aiming for healthy and energizing favorites most of the time — but also treating yourself to seasonal indulgences. Powell says the key is listening to your body and pushing your plate away as soon as you feel pleasantly full.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.