Trouble Overeating? Control Your Appetite with Walnuts

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I’ve always had a thing for walnuts, but they would only ever seem to show up around the holidays. Unlike other nuts that are ubiquitous these days, walnuts seem to be rarer. As an example, you tend to only find them in some grocery stores on the cake mix aisle, as a baking supply. However, are we all missing out on a way to help curb our appetite?

Walnuts Aren’t Just Delicious and Nutritious; They Can Control Your Appetite

It isn’t breaking news that walnuts are pure paleo. You’ll find walnuts listed on everything from cardiovascular diets to diabetes diets to low-carb diets. That’s because they’re high protein, rich in healthy fats, and have few carbohydrates.

These days the focus has been on the microbiome, all of those bacteria that live in your gut. Do you want to pamper your gut microbiome? Walnuts, rich in protein, fatty acids, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and so much more, consumed regularly can help your healthy gut bacteria flourish. Do you want to decrease your risk of death from any cause by a whopping 20%? Eat nuts every day! Do you want to stave off that midafternoon candy-bar craving or control your appetite gone wild? You guessed it. Walnuts!

So we’ve known that walnuts can help control your appetite, but what researchers haven’t known is why. Researchers designed a new study to investigate this, and the answer was found in the brain. Let’s review.

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Why Walnuts Satisfy Hunger: the Answer Is Found in the Brain

The new study was a double-blind controlled trial, meaning subjects didn’t know who was in the experiment group (those receiving walnuts in a smoothie) and who was in the placebo group (those not receiving walnuts in a smoothie), nor did the investigators. The groups then switched for a second study session. There were ten obese subjects in a very controlled environment as they lived and ate at the research clinic during the study sessions.

The result? From the subjects’ perspective, their hunger was satiated more during the sessions in which they consumed the walnut smoothies as opposed to the sessions in which they received the placebo. This result wasn’t just evidenced by their word; functional MRIs (fMRI) of the subjects brains answered the why question researchers were seeking. In the brain, the right insula is responsible for hunger and cravings. The fMRI showed that the insula was activated only after the subjects consumed walnuts. In other words, researchers concluded that the walnuts decreased the subjects’ hunger by acting on the part of the brain that works to control your appetite.

The upshot? Looks like it’s time to venture into the baking aisle to find that bag of walnuts usually reserved for Thanksgiving desserts. What’s amazing is that there is something in walnuts that shuts down hunger in the brain. So I know I’ll be adding walnuts to my morning protein shake!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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