The Surprising New Health Benefits of Nuts
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We've known for some time that nuts are a belly-busting food, but now a new study from Spain shows for the first time that eating nuts can also boost serotonin, a substance that lessens feelings of hunger and makes people feel happier!

This study was conducted with patients with metabolic syndrome, who are at much greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of specific risk factors and about one quarter of all U.S. adults qualify. To be diagnosed, you must have at least three of the following five conditions: a large waistline  (over 35 inches for women and over 40 inches for men); high blood pressure; a high level of harmful triglycerides in the blood; low "good" HDL cholesterol; and high blood sugar. 

Over a 12-week period, the researchers asked 22 patients to add one ounce of mixed nuts (raw unpeeled walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) to their daily diets and instructed another 20 to avoid nuts. Researchers were surprised to discover serotonin levels were higher among the patients who ate nuts.

Numerous studies have linked nuts to better health and weight loss benefits. That's one of the reasons why I included almonds as one of only five foods that make up the solid food "detox," the 5-day, 5-food fast forward, in my newest book. In one study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, researchers found that a low-calorie, almond-enriched diet helped overweight people shed more pounds than a low-calorie diet higher in complex carbohydrates. Both groups of dieters ate the same number of calories and equivalent amounts of protein, but after six months, those on the almond-enriched diet lost more weight and had smaller waistlines, less body fat, and lower blood pressures. In fact, the almond-eaters experienced a 62-percent greater reduction in their body weights, a 50-percent greater loss in waist circumference, and a 56-percent greater loss of body fat! 

If you're a fan but you're worried about going overboard, here are some ways to incorporate smaller amounts of nuts into you meals:

1. Add almond butter to your smoothie. Not only will it add that satisfaction factor, but the protein and good fat will help you feel fuller longer.

2. Sprinkle sliced or chopped nuts into hot or cold cereal, onto garden or fruit salads, rice and pasta dishes, veggie sides, even onto soup!

3. Use nut butter to make a savory sauce. I love to mix a little water, brown rice vinegar, roasted garlic, fresh ginger and crushed red pepper into almond butter to make a simple sauce that's perfect for stir-frys.

Do you find nuts to be a feel-good food that keeps your appetite capped? Please share your thoughts here or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine

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Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.
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