Crack the Craving Code: How Walnuts Keep Hunger at Bay and Boost Your Health

Cutting calories can be a battle against your brain as well as against your stomach. When you’re on a restrictive diet, hunger and cravings can rear their ugly heads and wreak havoc on your weight loss goals. But don’t be too hard on yourself – you may have a secret weapon in the war on hunger: walnuts.

Walnuts help control appetite by acting on the brain

Scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that snacking on walnuts between meals can ease hunger pangs and help you stick to your weight loss plan. Dr. Christos Mantzoros, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and his team studied 10 obese volunteers who lived in controlled housing so that the research team could control their diets.

The volunteers were divided into two groups. For five days, one group drank a smoothie that contained 48 grams (almost 2 ounces) of crushed walnuts, while the other group was given an identical smoothie but without the walnuts. After 30 days, they switched groups. At the end of each five-day period, subjects were given brain scans while looking at pictures of foods they craved, like hamburgers and desserts, and were asked to rate their level of hunger.

After drinking the walnut smoothies, the subjects reported feeling less hungry – and the brain scans backed up those claims. The walnuts appeared to have an effect on the right insula, an area of the brain responsible for making you feel full after eating, as well as being involved in judgment-making and impulse control. Dr. Mantzoros, the study’s lead researcher, said, “This is a powerful measure. […] When participants eat walnuts, this part of their brain lights up, and we know that’s connected with what they are telling us about feeling less hungry or more full.”

Other reasons to snack on walnuts

Even apart from their appetite-suppressing powers, walnuts have long been considered a “superfood” for their heart-protecting, cancer-fighting, and diabetes-preventing properties. They’re also an easy and delicious addition to any diet, fitting right into the Mediterranean approach to eating, which emphasizes healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and has been shown to be one of the easiest and most effective weight-loss diets to follow.

To incorporate more walnuts into your diet, try adding them to your smoothies and salads, sprinkling them over cottage cheese or yogurt, or baking them into bread. You can even use them as a substitute for pine nuts in your favorite pesto recipe. And for an extra-special treat, check out these recipes for maple-glazed pears with cinnamon and walnuts, slow cooker honey-glazed nuts with cinnamon, or roasted Brussels sprouts with walnuts.

Hunger and cravings may seem like insurmountable obstacles when you’re trying to lose weight, but with a little help from walnuts, you just might find the power to beat them at their own game. So go ahead and indulge in these tasty morsels – your brain, your stomach, and your waistline will thank you.

Eating This Nut Stops Food Cravings — Institute for Natural Healing
Walnuts up insula activation to highly desirable food cues —
Walnut consumption increases activation of the insula to highly desirable food cues: A randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled, cross‐over fMRI study — Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism