Out-of-hand tree nut consumption associated with better diet quality in children and adults

April 12th, 2012
In a study published in Nutrition Research, researchers looked at the association of out-of-hand nut (OOHN) consumption with nutrient intake, diet quality and the prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in both children and adults. 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.

The study looked at 24,385 individuals aged 2+ years participating in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). Intake was from 24-hour recall data and OOHN consumers were defined as those who consumed at least ¼ ounce of nuts per day, solely as nuts and not as part of products (i.e., in breads, cereals and bars.)

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."

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