November 19, 2009
by Jennifer Barnett Fox
The relationship between the consumption of nuts and the reduction of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk is well established by the 2003 qualified health claim, "Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."
The 2003 claim, which is supported and reinforced by 32 randomized clinical trials, continues to be explored. Additional research this year expounded on the claim with findings beyond cholesterol-lowering properties. While most studies center around heart disease, a September 2008 Journal of Nutrition article released findings that consuming tree nuts five or more times a week can also have a positive impact on weight management, satiety and diabetes.
"We like to eat what’s good for us, but if it doesn’t taste good, we don’t want any part of it," said Marie Fenn, president and managing director,
National Peanut Board.
HANDFUL, NOT CAN FULL. Nuts are recognized as a tasty way to meet nutritional needs, but nutritionists recognize that sometimes that can become too much of a good thing. The suggested daily serving of nuts remains 1.5 oz, or a handful. To reap the unique attributes of each variety, researchers and dieticians suggest consumers eat a variety of nuts. "If we could replace snacks high in refined carbohydrates with just ¼ to ¾ cup of nuts per day, we could have a positive impact on nutrient density and the risk of chronic disease," said Janet King, PhD, co-chair of the 2007 Nuts and Health Symposium and past chair of the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
Oil-roasted nuts are also an acceptable and healthful choice because the already oil-rich nuts do not absorb much of the oil from roasting, according Maureen Ternus, MS, RD, executive director, International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation.
Nuts are an all-natural source of vitamins C, B6, B12, A, K and E, just to name a few (see "Nutrients and % DV in 1 Oz of Tree Nuts and Peanuts"). Because researchers continue to find healthy reasons to eat all forms of nuts, there’s no reason not to partake.
Datamonitor cited that among the 65% of consumers who are trying to eat more healthy, they are no longer focused solely on reducing consumption or moderating consumption of sugar, fat and salt. "People are seeing the benefits of nut consumption," Ms. Ternus said.
NUTRITIONAL HEAVYWEIGHTS. Various nuts have been making nutritional news in recent months.
Almonds. The Institute of Food Research recently identified potential prebiotic properties in almonds. The research, funded by the Almond Board of California, found that finely ground almonds significantly increase the levels of certain beneficial gut bacteria. The effect was not seen when fat was removed from the almond preparation. Research on almonds found that subjects consuming up to an extra 600 Cal and eating a balanced diet experienced no weight gain and in some cases even lost weight. "Studies have shown that the fat in nuts may not be fully absorbed and there may be an increase in resting energy expenditure with regular nut consumption," Ms. Ternus said.
Brazils. One Brazil nut provides the recommended amount of selenium for an entire day. (Not included in the 2003 qualified health claim.)
Cashews. Cashews are an excellent source of protein and fiber and rich in mono-unsaturated fat. They are also a good source of potassium, B vitamins and folate. (Not included in the 2003 qualified health claim.)
Hazelnuts. Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, are the best nut source for proanthocyanidins (PAC), with amounts similar to dark chocolate or Concord grape juice. PACs are known to have antioxidant capabilities 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E, of which hazelnuts are an excellent source. For the greatest PAC content, the Hazelnut Council recommends using natural hazelnuts with skins intact.
Macadamias. While macadamia nuts are the highest in fat, they are also the highest in mono-unsaturated fats or "good" fats. (Not included in the 2003 qualified health claim.)
Pecans. August 2006 research showed naturally sodium-free pecans can play a part in the prevention of CHD and gallstones. Pecans’ high-fiber qualities also can support prostate health, according to research provided by the National Pecan Shellers Association. Pecans can aid in weight loss and maintenance, according to research published in September 2003.
Peanuts. Although technically a legume, peanuts are included in the 2003 qualified health claim. Peanuts have the highest protein amount of any nut, including tree nuts. The low glycemic index (14) for peanuts can help manage diabetes and maintain a consistent weight with no negative effect on blood sugar, according to the National Peanut Board.
Pistachios. In April, the University of Toronto shared study findings showing the incorporation of pistachios into a meal can delay the emptying of the stomach. This process blunts the blood sugar curve, possibly benefitting long-term blood sugar control. The result could lower the risk for type 2 diabetes and CHD risk, according to Cyril W.C. Kendall, PhD, University of Toronto. Pistachios are also a natural source of plant sterols.
Walnuts. The California Walnut Board reported recent studies suggesting that alpha-linolenic acid-rich walnuts can promote bone health, assist in diabetes and weight management, reduce breast tumor growth and enhance cognitive and motor function. Walnuts were awarded a qualified health claim in 2004 supporting the reduction of CHD.
BENEFICIAL EATS. Despite the plethora of positive news, there’s still room for promotion in both the area of nutrition and allergen awareness. A special supplement to the September 2009 Journal of Nutrition noted that more than 90% of the US population does not meet current intake recommendations for vitamin E, which is the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant and may play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Hyperawareness of allergens also requires nut suppliers and manufacturers of products containing nuts to remain vigilant about proper adherence to allergen cleanout and the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
"Every food in America has the possibility to be an allergen, and many times the disclosure label causes confusion for consumers who may have eaten that food for years before it was labeled as a potential allergen," Ms. Fenn said.
A 2003 US Department of Agriculture report found that a mere 0.2% of children and 0.5% of adults in the US are allergic to tree nuts, and numbers for peanut allergies are similarly low. In an effort to alleviate fear and educate the public and food service providers, the National Peanut Board teamed with the Culinary Institute of America to create a free, Internet-based food allergy education program. The site, www.ciaprochef.com/allergy, encourages food service professionals to "explore and adopt more carefully calibrated responses to the food allergy issue." Both organizations hope to halt the unnecessary elimination of foods with potential allergens.
Allergen awareness and growing demand for gluten-free foods have also contributed to an increased demand for tree nuts and seeds to be made into butters with gourmet flavors. "People are looking to use nuts in different ways," said Ann S. Billek, co-owner or Ready Roast Nut Co. Consumers understand healthful eating better, and the health trends have helped the nut category," said Ms. Billek.
Whether you add them sliced, diced, roasted, flavored or in a meal or butter, nuts are a perfect way to add flavor, texture and an abundance of healthful properties to baked products and snacks.