Aw, Nuts. Mega-Calorie Trail Food Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be.

Think you know which foods give you the most calories per ounce? So did I. Turns out I was wrong. Sort of.

Nearly a quarter of the calories in almonds go unused by your body. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I'm talking about nuts, which provide an exceptional number of calories per ounce. As I've written about before, pecans and macadamia nuts contain the most energy per ounce (200 calories), followed by Brazil nuts and walnuts (190), hazelnuts (180), peanuts and almonds (170), and cashews and pistachios (160).

All of that is true, which is why for years I've preached nuts as gospel for maximizing hiking power while minimizing weight. And that's why I was somewhat dismayed to read this recent article in the New York Times: On Food Labels, Calorie Miscounts.

The key detail? Nuts are hard to digest, which means that your body isn't able to utilize all those calories. In fact, as much of 25 percent of the calories in nuts go essentially unused. (The same is generally true of other foods high in fiber and protein, though not nearly to the extent of nuts.)

Interestingly, the amount of calorie "loss" appears to vary by nut. An in-depth study of almonds and pistachios found that 1 ounce of almonds actually only provides the body an estimated 129 calories out of a total possible 168 calories—a difference of more than 20 percent. In contrast, there was only a 5 percent loss with pistachios. 

So what's the upshot? Nuts are still a powerhouse food. Even with a reduced caloric uptake, they still provide more energy per ounce than just about any other trail snack. Plus they have been shown repeatedly to provide substantial health benefits. They are, and will continue to be, a staple of my trail (and home) diet.

So keep going nuts with 'em!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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