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What’s tastier than a handful of almonds? That very same handful but with way fewer calories than we once thought. A new study from the United States Department of Agriculture found that almonds have 20 percent fewer calories than food scientists previously believedDiscrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human diets. Novotny, J.A. Gebauer, S.K., Baer, D.J. USDA, Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville Human Nutrition Resarch Center, Beltsville, MD. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012;96(2):296-301.. Scientists now say a 28-gram serving of almonds has 129 calories, instead of the 170 calories listed on most nutrition labels.

The Study

Eighteen healthy men and women with an average age of 56 took part in a study with three 18-day phases. During each phase, subjects chowed down on an identical, controlled diet except that researchers switched up the amount of raw almonds different groups ate. The lucky scientists then got to analyze volunteers’ excrement. Turns out the fat content in the feces of participants who ate nuts was higher than in the feces of their nut-free friends. The study authors say that’s because we don’t absorb all the fat that’s actually in almonds. Now they’re suggesting the standard guidelines for calculating nutritional deets (the Atwater factors) might not work for nuts.

Can We Trust It?

Other research has pointed out some potential problems with the Atwater factors. Earlier in 2012, the same scientists found pistachios had five percent fewer calories than they’d thoughtMeasured energy value of pistachios in the human diet. Baer, D.J., Gebauer, S.K., Novtony, J.A. USDA, Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville Human Nutrition Resarch Center, Beltsville, MD. British Journal of Nutrition 2012;107(1):120-5..

But the USDA is being cautious and hasn’t officially recalculated the almond’s caloric value. And hold off on that “A”B&J — nut butters are a different story. When we chew or smoosh a nut’s cell wall, we get access to the fat that’s stored insideMastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response. Cassidy, B.A., Hollis, J.H., Fulford, A.D., et al. Department of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009;89(3):794-800.. So nut butters give us more access to the nuts’ fat than the raw variety doesAbsorption of whole peanuts, peanut oil, and peanut butter. Levine, A.S., Silvis, S.E. New England Journal of Medicine 1980;303(16):917-8..

Even for raw-almond fanatics, the new findings obviously aren’t an excuse to scarf down a keg-full of the good stuff this weekend, but a few extra nuts is okay. Celebrate with a pal and a package of almonds and, well, go nuts.

Are you psyched or skeptical about the new findings? Share your thoughts in the comments below.