Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #164: The Best Snack?

As a long time (27 year) type 2 diabetic who has pretty much controlled the disease (and gotten off 3 classes of oral diabetes meds) by diet alone for the last 11 years, I have long argued that snacks are unnecessary. If you haven’t eaten a Very Low Carb (VLC) breakfast and a no-carb lunch every day, as I do, you may doubt this. You may even say it is not credible. But as incredible as it sounds, it is absolutely true. You have to try this VLC Way of Eating (WOE) to discover this for yourself. You will not be hungry between meals.

I admit to snacking sometimes, either before dinner (radishes or celery usually, sometimes with salt and a little butter or a little whipped cream cheese, respectively), and occasionally after dinner (a controlled portion of nuts). Why? Not because of physical hunger or any other known nutritional need. I describe it as nervous eating, and I always ask myself if I am hungry before I do it, and I always answer “no;” then, I do it anyway. Go figure!

So, when I saw a link to David Mendoza’s column in the Low Carb Diet News titled, “The Best Snack for Weight Loss and Diabetes, I was interested. Mendoza is a well-respected and well read blogger (well-read in both senses) who describes himself as a “freelance medical writer, advocate, and consultant specializing in diabetes.” He has been a type 2 diabetic since 1994 and he started writing about it online in 1995. So, David Mendoza has credibility.

But after I read through his piece about the “best snack,” I felt his credibility was somewhat tarnished, as I’ll explain shortly. First, I want to point out some of the good stuff. Early on in his blog piece he emphasizes this:

“Unlike some other tasty nuts like cashews, almonds are much lower in carbohydrates, which are the part of our diet that is almost solely responsible for raising our blood sugar level. Nothing else in our diet is more important for managing our diabetes than keeping that level in check.”

His point about cashews and carbs is good. Cashews and pistachios (drats; I love them.) are both too high in carbs to be considered as part of a healthy diet for type 2 diabetics. I address this in my column about nuts.

“Some other nuts have a somewhat more favorable ratio of those super-healthy monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats than almonds. But I avoid them as a matter of taste. I can eat macadamia nuts nonstop until the container is empty, but my body gets so full that I can easily put on a few pounds. On the other hand, I don’t particularly appreciate the taste of other healthy nuts like pecans or walnuts.”

I certainly agree with his point about macadamia nuts. They’re also very expensive. (Does anybody know a source for buying macadamia nuts wholesale?) However, as I mention in my column, for me the only basis for selecting which type of nuts to eat (besides carbs) is their Omega 6 content. In that respect, I disagree with Mendoza. Pecans are marginal at best and walnuts are totally verboten. The very best, excluding again cashews and pistachios because of the carbs, are macadamia nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), and then almonds.

Now, to the problem: It turns out “the best snack for weight loss and diabetes” is almonds. And although Mendoza expresses a personal preference for raw almonds (which he keeps in the freezer to give them a little “crunch”), the study he cites is with roasted and salted almonds. The study, however, as Mendoza points out, seems to have a fatal flaw: it was funded by the Almond Board of California. Oh dear…

“A few days ago the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the study online in advance of printing it. The abstract of “Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial,” is available at the journal’s website.”

In the positive, Mendoza says, “A big strength of this study by Purdue University and Australian researchers is that it was randomized and controlled. This is a good sized study conducted with the standard controls.”

In the negative, Mendoza states that he sees 3 problems with the study: 1) he cites the funding source, “…although they [the authors] also report that they have no conflicts of interest;” 2) “… we still don’t know why the study participants who snacked on almonds didn’t gain weight.” (For an explanation, check this out); and 3) “…this was also a short study that couldn’t measure the long-term impact of snacking on almonds.”

These are all good points. I’m only disappointed that I had to read to the end to learn that the almond study’s authors, and David Mendoza’s recommendation, were flawed by the study’s inherent conflict of interest. Almonds could be my favorite snack too, but bear in mind that the study’s snack size, 1½ ounces (20 almonds) is 250 calories! That’s half a dinner-time meal (for me). How can anyone hope to lose weight eating a 250 calorie snack on a regular basis?


  1. Well, one COULD hope. It just isn't going to happen.

  2. You're such a cynic, Jan! But, I suppose it can be explained, and forgiven. After all, you wrote your comment on Thanksgiving, one of the days of the year when we ALL know that good, responsible eating practices "isn't going to happen," at least not on that day. But, as Scarlett (Olivia DeHaviland) says, "...tomorrow is another day," or some such. I forgive myself for yesterday's indulgences, and renew my resolve to start over again, which I have.