Energy extraction from nuts: walnuts, almonds and pistachios

Br J Nutr. 2020 Feb 28;123(4):361-371. doi: 10.1017/S0007114519002630. Epub 2019 Oct 17.


The bioaccessibility of fat has implications for satiety and postprandial lipidaemia. The prevailing view holds that the integrity of plant cell wall structure is the primary determinant of energy and nutrient extraction from plant cells as they pass through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, comparisons across nuts (walnuts, almonds and pistachios) with varying physical properties do not support this view. In the present study, masticated samples of three nuts from healthy adults were exposed to a static model of gastric digestion followed by simulated intestinal digestion. Primary outcomes were particle size and lipid release at each phase of digestion. Walnuts produced a significantly larger particle size post-mastication compared with almonds. Under gastric and intestinal conditions, the particle size was larger for walnuts compared with pistachios and almonds (P < 0·05). However, the masticated and digesta particle sizes were not related to the integrity of cell walls or lipid release. The total lipid release was comparable between nuts after the in vitro intestinal phase (P > 0·05). Microstructural examination showed ruptured and fissured cell walls that would allow digestion of cellular contents, and this may be governed by internal cellular properties such as oil body state. Furthermore, the cell walls of walnuts tend to rupture rather than separate and as walnut tissue passes through the GI tract, lipids tend to coalesce reducing digestion efficiency.

Keywords: Digestion; Energy extraction; Lipid bioaccessibility; Nuts; Walnuts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Availability
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacokinetics*
  • Digestion
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / etiology
  • Juglans / chemistry*
  • Lipids / pharmacokinetics*
  • Male
  • Mastication
  • Particle Size
  • Pistacia / chemistry*
  • Postprandial Period
  • Prunus dulcis / chemistry*
  • Satiation


  • Dietary Fats
  • Lipids