USDA takes a fresh look at the calorie content of walnuts

A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that one serving of walnuts (1oz) may provide 146 calories, which is 39 calories less, or 21 percent fewer, than the 185 calories listed in the USDA Nutrient Database. (1) The study takes into account the digestibility of walnut pieces and halves, and further research is needed to better understand the results of the study and how this technique for calculating calories could potentially affect the calorie count of other foods. The research was led by Dr. David J. Baer, PhD, Supervisory Research Physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Historically, the calorie value for walnuts was determined using the Atwater factors, which were developed in the late 19th century and calculates metabolizable energy, or energy available to the body, for many foods. Dr. Baer’s research, which used the bomb calorimetry method to calculate calories of walnuts metabolized by the study participants, found that the metabolizable energy of walnuts was 21 percent less than that predicted by the Atwater factors.

“The potential for using this method to investigate the calorie content of walnuts is intriguing,” said Dr. Baer. “Given the potential health benefits of consuming walnuts, including the reduced risk for cardiovascular disease (2), it is worthwhile to understand the calorie content of walnuts in the human diet and potentially reduce the barriers to their consumption.”

To reach the outcome of the study, the research team studied 18 healthy adults. Each person was assigned randomly to a sequence of two diets: a controlled American diet without walnuts for a 3-week period, and a controlled diet with 1.5 servings of walnuts (42 grams) for another 3-week period. Total calorie levels were consistent for individual participants across both treatment periods. Administered diets, walnuts, fecal and urine samples were collected and subject to bomb calorimetry, to measure calories, and the resulting data were used to calculate the metabolizable energy of the walnuts.


USDA takes a fresh look at the calorie content of walnuts The study provides insight into the growing body of research evaluating walnuts’ role in a healthy diet. In addition to providing a convenient source of fiber (2 grams per ounce) and protein (4 grams per ounce), walnuts are the only nut that contain a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (2.5 grams per ounce), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. ii

Co-authors with Dr. Baer are Sarah K. Gebauer, PhD and Janet A. Novotny, PhD of the USDA’s Food Components and Health Laboratory.

This study was supported in part by funds from the United States Department of Agriculture and the California Walnut Commission.

About California Walnut Commission

The California Walnut Commission, established in 1987, is funded by mandatory assessments of the growers. The Commission is an agency of the State of California that works in concurrence with the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The CWC is mainly involved in health research and export market development activities. For more industry information, health research and recipe ideas, visit

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(1) Baer DJ, Gebauer SK, Novotny JA. Walnuts Consumed by Healthy Adults Provide Fewer Available Calories than Predicted by the Atwater Factors. [published online ahead of print Nov., 18 2015]. J Nutr. 2015. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.217372.

(2) Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, March 2004.) One ounce of walnuts provides 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid—the plant-based omega-3.


Anna Hazen
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  Journal of Nutrition

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