Tree Nut Consumption Associated with Better Diet, Lower Body Weight Measures and Lower Prevalence of Health Risks: New Findings on Nut Consumption in the U.S. presented at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Anaheim, CA

DAVIS, CA, April 27, 2010 – In a study presented today at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Anaheim, CA, researchers looked at the association of out-of-hand tree nut (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts) consumption, excluding nuts in cereals and other foods, with nutrient intake, diet quality and health risks in adults.  Tree nut consumption was associated with a higher overall diet quality score, improved nutrient intakes and lower prevalence of health risks.

 “We know nuts may help reduce the risk of heart disease, but no recent studies using a nationally representative U.S. population have examined the prevalence of out-of-hand tree nut consumption with diet and health risk factors,” stated Victor Fulgoni, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study. “Because of the nature of this study we cannot infer cause and effect. However, one of the more interesting findings was the fact that tree nut consumers had lower body mass indices, waist circumference, prevalence of hypertension, and higher HDL-cholesterol compared to non-consumers.”  The actual amounts were -0.9kg/m2, -2.0 cm, 29.2 ± 2.1 vs. 33.8 ± 0.7, and 27.8 ± 2.2 vs. 34.0 ± 0.7 respectively.

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. The results showed that in addition to lower body mass indices, tree nut consumers had higher intakes of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and total fat.  Tree nut consumers also consumed significantly higher amounts of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium (key shortfall nutrients in U.S. adults) compared to non-consumers, but consumed less sodium.

While LDL cholesterol was similar in both groups, the tree nut consumers had higher HDL cholesterol and lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation which can lead to a variety of chronic diseases including heart disease. Consumption of tree nuts was also associated with a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome, which, on a population basis, could lead to better health and lower long-term healthcare costs.

Moreover, though overall 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 fruits and less sodium and calories from solid fats, alcohol and added sugars. As a result, Dr. Fulgoni recommends, “Tree nuts should be an integral part of a healthy diet and encouraged by health professionals.”

Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., Executive Director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF), adds, “In light of this 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 nuts in the diet.”