The definitive answer on nuts and the slow carb diet

It’s a question that gets asked from time to time – if we are avoiding ‘white’ carbohydrates, and eating protein and some fat.. then why no nuts? Maybe some are ok, and some aren’t? If you have been wondering about nuts on the slow carb diet, or if you have been snacking on nuts with your slow carb diet, you probably want to read this – all you need to know about nuts is right here.

Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seeds, pistachios, and the list goes on. We could be here all day if we wanted to list all the possible variations of nuts and seeds that could be imagined, not to mention their oils, butters and ground variations. But the question is – are any of them OK?

If you check out our guide to the New Slow Carb Rules – what to eat, not what to avoid – then you’ll see we are very specific about what constitutes a clean slow carb diet. And that doesn’t include nuts.

So, what about Tim’s references to brazil nuts (for testosterone, or to blunt sugar spikes), or his suggestions to eat almonds if stuck in an airport? Surely this means that some nuts are ok?

How about the suggestion that almond butter can be used as a late night snack? Maybe that means some almond butter at another time of day could work?

Allow me to quickly answer those questions.

Brazil nuts – in extreme moderation (think 4) is what Tim mentions, specifically for guys who are older, and want to boost their testosterone count. He has also mentioned brazil nuts are part of his daily ritual, however the important consideration is that his aim is weight maintenance, not fat loss. That’s a very difference goal.

If you provide your body with fat, when it’s in the state of burning fat for energy (as is likely with slow carb), then you cheat yourself out of burning your own fat for energy, and instead burn the dietary fat you eat for energy. This is most likely why low fat meats work the best on this diet. Though the body becomes tuned to burning fat for energy, the more fat you eat, the less of your own you need to burn.

Eating almonds if you’re in a bind is an OK solution. At an airport, with no options but highly processed carb-heavy foods is quite a circumstance, and one that requires you to think of the ‘least bad’ outcome, rather than the ‘best’. The ‘best’ outcome was that you packed some beans, some spinach and perhaps some ham before you arrived, and you’re eating that for lunch. Without a slow carb meal, then we look to ‘harm minimizing’ options – and this is where almonds come in. They’re unlikely to affect the overall progress of a slow carb diet, if you get back to slow carb meals the following day, as it’s a blip on the food-radar. If you opted for carbohydrates like potato chips, this could have an affect for a number of days, and likely scrub a week of effort.

Though brazil nuts and almonds both have their purpose, in the day-to-day routine of slow carb, if you are wanting to lose fat, they’re not likely to help you lose fat any quicker – and I think that’s the best way to explain their effect.

In general, nuts packs a lot of calories into a small space, and it’s difficult for a body tuned to eating food in quantity, like one on the slow carb diet, to realize just how much food energy is coming in, in such a small package. We become accustomed to how our stomach feels after eating, and partially use this as a gauge to how much we need to eat. Nuts make it easier to overeat, that’s the simple answer.

Almond butter before bed is an option, again, only if things haven’t worked out during the day, and you’re already hungry before hitting the hay. Ideally you have had a good amount of food through 3 or 4 slow carb meals during the day, and you’re feeling satisfied before you go to bed. If not, a small dose of fat, with some protein, is a good option because it will quickly make you feel satisfied, will not impact blood sugar and will digest reasonably slowly. It doesn’t pack a lot of calories, but enough so that you won’t wake up feeling hungry in a couple of hours. Hence, the 2 tablespoons of almond butter is suggested in this scenario.

In general, however, slow carb consists of 3 groups of food – beans/lentils, low fat protein, and (green) vegetables.

Whenever I am considering a certain food, or wondering if I could substitute something, I consider that simple equation. If what I’m thinking about can directly replace one of those groups (for example, in some cases I have used an unflavored protein shake instead of meat/eggs) – then I’m comfortable with the switch. If, however, I’m considering something that doesn’t have similar nutritional qualities to any of the 3 groups (for example macadamia nuts which are very high in fat, and low to moderate in protein), then I see a situation that means I’m going off the slow carb diet.

The other downside to nuts is that most of them are prepared with high amounts of oil, and salt, which only goes to making them edge toward the ‘unhealthy’ category. But don’t use this information to give yourself a carte blanche on unsalted, raw nuts (like raw cashews or almonds)! It’s a side note only.. raw nuts have most of the fat of their oiled cousins, and still don’t fall into a ‘low fat protein’ or other category in slow carb.

So, despite their delicious, and nutritionally dense nature, nuts are best left to cheat days only. In fact, I can attest that including nuts in any quantity has enhanced fat loss, or muscle gain, and so really, it’s hard to find a good answer for why they should be used at all. They do taste great, but I suspect it’s their portability that makes them so appealing. If you’re having problems with portability, consider hard boiled eggs, or packing a bean salad, with spinach and tuna, in a container, which will last even a long day at moderate temperatures.

If you must, use the almonds at the airport only once every few months, use the almond butter at night once a week at most, and consider your goals before you add brazil nuts to your morning routine (they’re very easy to accidentally add throughout the day once you start!).

And then, when your cheat day rolls around, and if you so desire, go nuts!

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22 Responses to The definitive answer on nuts and the slow carb diet

  • Justin says:

    But peanuts are a legume do they not count as slow carb?

    From my experience I have done much better with fat loss when I do eat a lot of raw almonds. I find I can only do a handful and then I am sick of them, I hypothesis that they are good at controlling leptin because they have no smell/flavor and are pretty calorically dense.

    I think natural fat is generally a good thing though. Nuts generally are higher in omega-6 than omega-3 which is not idea, (Walnuts I think are highest in omega-3s).

    Mark’s daily apple has some good posts on the pros and cons of nuts

    • Luke says:

      Hey Justin,

      You have a good point. But here’s my hypothesis – though peanuts are indeed a legume, the balance on slow carb towards fat loss is gentle, in a lot of cases, and not as full-on as, for example, Atkins’ induction phase. For that reason, I think subtleties, like fat vs protein content of particular legumes need to be considered more on this program than on some others. Partially due to the fact that there are actually a lot of carbohydrates taken in with slow carb, and also for the reason that calories aren’t counted, and therefore fat storages need to be accessed due to meals not providing total calorie requirements for the day. Peanuts are likely to ‘backfill’ any calorie deficit, and may well push through to a calorie surplus, due to their delicious and addictive nature.

      Your almond result is very interesting – I find that I can burn through 1/2 a cup of almonds before I want to stop. I agree that natural fat is a good thing – which is what got me started originally on natural peanut butter, and almond butter, however for true slow carb fat loss, I think it’s much easier to exclude nuts. The leptin angle is well worth considering, if people want a change, or want to pursue an alternative to slow carb.

      The articles on Mark’s Daily Apple are good reads – thanks for including them. I recommend readers check them out if they’re interested in some more technical info on nuts, and omega 6 fats. You’re right that in general it’s good to limit Omega 6 intake, and favor Omega 3 intake. The lowest in terms of Omega 6 content are macadamias, cashews and hazelnuts. Almonds and pistachios are also lower in Omega 6s than other nuts.

      Nuts are a common variation on the slow carb diet – the fat content, if a modest intake is all that’s eaten – isn’t going to affect the fat-burning effect on the body, like carbohydrates would, and the protein doesn’t hurt. It’s the slippery slope that nuts ride on that is the key problem I think. It is very easy to start one week with nuts on a couple of days, and end the month with nuts 3 times a day.


  • Jason says:

    “If you provide your body with fat, when it’s in the state of burning fat for energy (as is likely with slow carb), then you cheat yourself out of burning your own fat for energy, and instead burn the dietary fat you eat for energy.”

    Something doesn’t sit right with me on that but I have no proof at the moment. :)

    I do know this, if I understand Robb Wolf correctly: when people have a lot of fat to lose, the best thing to do is eat low carb, moderate protein, and high fat. That’s why people lose weight with Atkins. I don’t think dietary fat has an impact on bodyfat. That seems to be the Conventional Wisdom that keeps people away from whole-fat things.

    I read, either in the book or on TF’s blog, that the real problem with fatted meats is that the fat is where all of the crap gets stored when the meat isn’t organic, grass fed, and all that jazz. So it’s not a reason of fat consumption as it is omega-6 and hormones and whatever other crap might be in it.

    The biggest problem with nuts (of which I eat a fair amount if I get hungry) is the omega-6 fatty acids, like Justin was talking about.

    But I do agree with your advice to not go overboard. If you eat too many nuts, you *will* give yourself a caloric surplus and do more harm than good. And I would not use nuts as a replacement meal, but more in situations like you mentioned.


    • Luke says:

      Hey Jason, I really appreciate your comments here.
      I think I need to clarify – When the body is in a state of ketosis, that is burning fat as its primary energy source, then dietary fat ‘mixes in’ with body fat, much like when you add gas to the fuel tank of your car, and then drive. Either is fair game. However, the point I was trying to make (badly) is that if you ate unlimited amounts of calories of fat, you wouldn’t lose your own bodyfat to energy. You probably wouldn’t gain any bodyfat, but you probably wouldn’t lose. Practically, however, for most people in ketosis, eating that many calories of fat isn’t an issue, because hunger in diminished and most low carb plans advise to ‘eat until you’ve had enough’, rather than gorging. What you mention about low carb, moderate protein and high fat is exactly the Atkins model – and it does get pretty impressive results, both in bodyfat loss, and in other health improvements.
      Your thoughts on fatty meat are interesting – I don’t remember reading that, so perhaps it was on the blog, or online elsewhere?
      I think Justin did bring up a very worthwhile point about Omega 6 in nuts.

      When considered relative to slow carb, however, I think nuts and other higher fat items should be off the menu. The presence of dietary fat, with the presence of carbohydrates can lead to bodyfat gain. My recommendation here is specifically for slow carb. There’s enough carbs in the beans (even net carbs) that if paired with fatty meat, and/or nuts, that I think it could stall weight loss. Slow carb isn’t necessarily a ketogenic diet, more an very controlled GI diet that leads to fat loss for a few reasons like ALA concentration of beans (diverting energy into muscles), a natural lean towards lower calories, a very low impact on blood sugar, etc.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  • Vicky says:

    This is the one thing i disagree with after reading the info on the diet. eating almonds was a huge help for me in losing weight after my second baby. without nuts, i was hungry constantly and fruits and vegetables and beans didn’t always help. the only suggestion i have is if you are going to eat nuts, count how many, don’t gorge yourself on them, and make sure that they are natural, unsalted. i had decided to do the opposite of what i normally did in the past, and it worked. i lost 35 lbs in about 4 and a half months. i added more olive oil and nuts to my diet in addition to fruits and vegetables. i didn’t worry as much about low fat as low fat never worked for me before, it just left me frustrated, hungry and then going off the diet and eating carbs and sugars instead. And i was right. almonds made me feel full or held me over until i could eat a meal. unfortunately i only maintained for about 10 months before it started to creep back up because i allowed old bad habits to gain a foothold again and i began working some crazy shifts which made exercise difficult. but i still stand by what i discovered about almonds. im not sure why my post is coming up all in capitals as my caps lock is off.

    • Luke says:

      Hi Vicky,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I think it’s great that you were able to experiment and find something that worked! Too bad that your schedule etc has made it difficult to keep the weight off. That said though, it’s not because you can’t exercise that you gain fat. If you are able to find a mix of food that is satisfying, and doesn’t prompt an insulin response, then you won’t gain fat, even if you’re not able to exercise. My suggestion is to read up some more on Low GI diets, or to check out the course I created called Complete Bodyfat Control.

      All the very best!

      • Vicky says:

        Thanks for your response.

        Lack of exercise was only one of the reasons why i began regaining. looking back i see that i started snacking again in the evenings and i began drinking red wine again on weekends. when drinking wine i find i am more hungry so i am more prone to eating foods i shouldn’t.

        but i definitely will do some more reading as you suggested.

        • Luke says:

          Hey Vicky thanks for getting back to me!
          It’s easy to fall back to those habits, but remember that you’re always building up your ability to adjust your lifestyle. Even if something doesn’t stick for good, you are improving your ability to make changes, which, in the long term, is a very good skill to have.
          All the best,

  • Thomas says:


    The best counter example I can give is in TIM Ferries’s book in the ‘Last Mile’ section. In that they describe how to lose the last 2% body fat and go from 10% to 8%. This particular diet has nuts added to almost every meal and actually does not allow beans. I feel as though the only reason Tim doesn’t include nuts as “slow-carb” is because they are so easy to go overboard on. The diet is all about simplicity and no limits to portions. Nuts require counting or measuring which is what he intends to stay away from.

    Thanks for all the work you do,


    • Luke says:

      Hey Thomas, you’re welcome, and thanks for your comment!
      I think you’re right – slow carb was created to be a no-measuring diet regime. And to that end, Tim eliminated foods that technically fit in with this style of weight loss (that relies on controlling blood sugar), because they are foods that almost require measurement. Nuts is the best example. The fact that he suggests having some almond butter in the evening before bed if hungry speaks to this directly.


  • Ash says:

    Hey luke,
    Wanted to know one thing, if I maintain my daily caloric intake to 1500 and out of that 1500 calories if I consume 150-200 cals from almonds/walnuts, will this be bad or will this defeat my purpose of losing weight. I take 1500 cals daily but planning to add nuts in my daily intake. Please clarify.

    Thanks for this wonderful article.

    • Luke Starbuck says:

      Hey Ash,

      Step 1 – stop counting calories.
      Every day, you’ll need a differently amount of calories, and it’ll be better if you practice eating to your hunger and energy levels. Some days you’ll need more, some days maybe 1500, though that’s low. Slow carb isn’t about depriving yourself of food. It’s about controlling hormones through food selection. Eating that amount of almonds or walnuts is unlikely to have a big impact on weight loss.

      All the best,

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