Whole nuts have fewer calories than previously thought. For some years, research confirming that fact has been leaking, but now food labels are beginning to change. A KIND bar that previously had 200 calories, for example, it will now be labeled as containing 180 calories.
KIND told me by email that they believe they are the first snack brand to adjust their labels. Most brands get calorie data from a USDA database, which has not yet been updated, but the science behind calorie reductions is accepted.
How do we get the calories in nuts so bad?
A calorie is a measure of energy. If you had a great science teacher in high school, you can remember that you can burn a food, literally set it on fire, and measure the temperature of a glass of water over the fire. The more the water heats up, the more fuel there was in that Dorito or what you burned.
The human body is a bit different from a classroom fire, but we have known for over 100 years that our body can get approximately 9 usable calories from each gram of fat in our food, 4 calories from each gram of protein, and so on. Scientists has made adjustments to the calculations over the years to take into account the fact that each food is digested a little differently.
But nobody looked too closely at whole nuts until recently.
They discovered it with a really disgusting experiment (sorry)
Nuts, being parts of plants, are made of cells. Those cells have cell walls. The cell walls of nuts are particularly hard, which is why nuts are so crunchy. But this also means that some of the nutrients, especially fats, are locked inside the cells where our digestive system cannot always release them all. If you eat chopped or ground nuts in almond butter, you get almost all the good things. But whole nuts often leave your body with many of its cells that contain nutrients still intact.
I think you see where we are going with this. In a series of recent experiments, USDA researchers made people eat certain diets with and without nuts. They dried and burned the food that these people ate, and then they did the same with their poop to calculate how many calories were left after digestion.
The experiments were more detailed than this, but that is the basic idea. Participants had to store all their urine and feces in a refrigerator between trips to the laboratory. Thank you, brave souls, for doing your part for science.
What does this mean for me, a nut lover?
The results: cashews have 16% less calories than previously thought, nuts have 21% lessand almonds have 32% off.
Although nuts have fewer calories, updating KIND bar labels does not change macronutrients; For example, the amount of grams of fat remains the same. A spokesman told us that this is because the nutrient content (fats, proteins, vitamins, etc.) is at any level measured in the food itself. So your body is not digesting as much fat as before thought, but the amount of grams of fat on the label remains the same. In other words, the numbers don’t add up, but this is how label is written.
An interesting detail, if you read the studies, is that not everyone extracted the same amount of calories from nuts: although it was determined that a serving of cashew nuts had 137 calories, that is an average, a person obtained 105 calories from a single serving , while another obtained 151. Each body is different, and that is a reminder that calorie counting will never be accurate (for this and several other reasons)
So, if you eat whole nuts, they are not as high in calories as you probably thought. It is useful to know if you are tracking calories and eating nuts per bowl.
Updated 1/15/2020 at 3:08 pm to include information from a KIND spokesperson on why macronutrient labeling did not change.