In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers compared risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome of nut consumers versus those who did not consume nuts. Tree nut (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts) consumption specifically, was associated with higher levels of high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (good cholesterol) and lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation which can lead to a variety of chronic diseases including heart disease.
“One of the more interesting findings was the fact that tree nut consumers had lower body weight, as well as lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference compared to nonconsumers. The mean weight, BMI, and waist circumference were 4.19 pounds, 0.9kg/m2 and 0.83 inches lower in consumers than non-consumers, respectively,” stated Carol O’Neil, PhD, MPH, RD, lead author on the paper and Professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
The study looked at 13,292 men and women (19+ years) participating in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). Intake was from 24-hour recall data and tree nut consumers were defined as those who consumed ≥ ¼ ounce/day.
Tree nut consumption was associated with a five percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome, a name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. In addition, tree nut consumers had a lower prevalence of four risk factors for metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose (blood sugar) levels and low high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol levels.
Moreover, previous research by the same authors, showed that although tree nut consumption in the U.S. population is relatively low (mean intake of 1.19 ounces/day for nut consumers) nutrient intakes and diet quality were significantly improved when tree nuts were consumed. The latter appear to be associated with a greater intake of whole grains, fruits, and less saturated fatty acid, sodium and calories from solid fats, alcohol and added sugars. As a result, Dr. O’Neil recommends, “Tree nuts should be an integral part of a healthy diet and encouraged by health professionals—especially registered dietitians.”
Consumers of OOHN, including tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts), had higher intakes of energy, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the good fats) and dietary fiber, and lower intakes of carbohydrates, cholesterol and sodium than non-consumers.
“Adult consumers also had a 19% decreased risk of hypertension and a 21% decreased risk of low high-density lipoprotein (HDL--the good cholesterol) levels—both risk factors for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease,” stated Carol O’Neil, PhD, MPH, RD, lead author on the paper and Professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
According to Dr. O’Neil, “We decided to look at OOHN specifically because this shows an individual’s conscious decision to consume nuts, which may be associated with a desire for a healthier lifestyle.” Interestingly, the percent of OOHN consumers increased with age: 2.1% ± 0.3%, 2.6% ± 0.3%, 6.5% ± 0.5%, and 9.6% ± 0.5% of those aged 2 to 11, 12 to 18, 19 to 50, and 51+ years, respectively. The two latter groups were combined into a single group of consumers aged 19+ years for subsequent analyses.
“In all of the age groups, although energy intake was higher in OOHN consumers than non-consumers, neither weight nor body mass index (BMI) was higher. This suggests that OOHN consumers are better able to balance energy intake with energy output than non-consumers,” stated Dr. O’Neil. This research comes on the heels of another study by the same authors, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, which showed that tree nut consumers specifically (ages 19+) had lower body weight, as well as lower BMI and waist circumference compared to non-consumers. The mean weight, BMI, and waist circumference were 4.19 pounds, 0.9kg/m2 and 0.83 inches lower in consumers than non-consumers, respectively.
“These new data, along with previous research, show once again that nuts can and should play an important role in a healthy diet,” adds Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., Executive Director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF). “With current nut consumption well below the recommended 1.5 ounces of nuts per day (in the FDA qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease) people should be encouraged to grab a handful of nuts every day. Eat them as a snack or throw some on yogurt, salad or oatmeal.”
Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., Executive Director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF), adds, “In light of these new data and the fact that the FDA has issued a qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease with a recommended intake of 1.5 ounces of nuts per day, we need to educate people about the importance of including tree nuts in the diet. And, since February is heart month, this is a great reason to go nuts for your health!”