The University of Wollongong study, published in Public Health Nutrition, is the first to analyse nut consumption in Australia, including whole nuts, as well as nuts incorporated into other foods, including breakfast cereal and muesli bars.
The study revealed just 2% of Australians ate the recommended 30g of nuts a day (about a handful) and 60% of Australians did not report eating any nuts. Among all Australians, the average amount of nuts eaten was 4.6g a day, this increased to 11.6g of nuts a day when the analysis focused on ‘nut consumers’.
The researchers also found Australian who ate more nuts had significantly higher intakes of key nutrients including fibre, vitamin E, iron, magnesium and phosphorous. Nut consumption was not associated with increased weight, BMI or weight circumference.
Lead researcher, University of Wollongong’s Dr Elizabeth Neale said the low level of nut consumption was concerning.
“The body of scientific evidence shows that, as part of a healthy diet, eating approximately 30 grams of nuts a day is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and type 2 diabetes,” said Dr Neale.
“To reach this important health target, our research suggests that, overall, Australians need to significantly increase their nut intake, in many cases eating six-times as many nuts as they currently do.
“That means going from infrequent nut consumption, averaging only two to three nuts a day, to their more regular inclusion in healthy meals and snacks, averaging a handful a day.
“Nuts are energy-dense foods and both consumers and health professionals continue to raise concerns that eating nuts could cause weight gain. It’s important to correct this misconception about nuts and encourage including a handful of nuts daily as part of a healthy diet.
“Research spanning 20 years has shown eating nuts does not cause weight gain, rather, regular nut consumption may help with weight management by helping people feel full and encouraging consumption of other healthy foods. Our analysis of Australian data was consistent with this and showed eating nuts was not associated with increased weight, BMI or weight circumference.”
The University of Wollongong researchers conducted a secondary analysis of the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS) component of the 2011-13 Australian Health Survey (AHS). They applied a nut specific database (4) to data from the representative sample of more than 12,100 Australians aged 2 and older, to identify consumption of nuts and nut-containing products, as well as the number of nuts (in grams) in each product.
The study reported most nuts were consumed as whole nuts or as part of core foods (as categorised by AUSNUT 2011-2013 major and sub-major food groups) with just 11.75% of nuts consumed as part of discretionary products such as confectionery, cakes and muffins.
Just over a third (39.2%) of Australians were nut eaters and a similar proportion of males and females reported eating nuts. Of those who were eating nuts, children had the lowest average intake (7.7g a day) – almost half that of adults (adults 18-64 years average intake 12.8g a day).
The recent Burden of Disease study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare stated a ‘diet low in nuts and seeds’ had a bigger impact on disease burden than a ‘diet low in vegetables’ (5).
Nuts for Life dietitian Belinda Neville said nuts were an important part of a heathy diet with benefits coming from the nutrients they contain, as well as the unhealthy foods they often replaced.
“Nuts are rich in protein, good fats and fibre, which is an essential combination for helping to satisfy hunger and reduce appetite. As well as being a nutrient-dense snack, their satiating qualities as a whole food may also help you to resist raiding the cookie jar,” said Ms Neville.
“Nuts are increasing in popularity, especially with trends in DIY nut butters and higher protein diets, but we have a long way to go and need people to prioritise nuts as a daily ‘must eat’, just like fruits and vegetables.”
The University of Wollongong analysis was funded by Nuts for Life, Australia’s leading tree nut nutrition education body, and supported by the INC International Nut and Dried Fruit Council. The analysis was completed by a team of researchers at the University of Wollongong consisting of Cassandra Nikodijevic, Dr Elizabeth Neale, Professor
Linda Tapsell, Dr Yasmine Probst, and Professor Marijka Batterham.
Extensive scientific research, spanning decades, has found eating a 30g handful of nuts most days of the week is associated with:
- 29% reduced risk of coronary heart disease and 21 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) (2)
- 13% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (3)
- 15% reduced risk of developing cancer (2)
- Reduced death from all causes (2) and
- Improved weight management (4,6,7)
1. Nikodijevic C. et al. Nut consumption in a representative survey of Australians: a secondary analysis of the 2011–2012 National Nutrition and
Physical Activity Survey. Public Health Nutrition. March 2020 DOI: 10.1017/S1368980019004117
2. Aune, D., et al., Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all- cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and
dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med, 2016. 14(1): p. 207.
3. Afshin, A., et al., Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and
meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr, 2014. 100(1): p. 278-88.
4. Nikodijevic C. et al. Development of a database for estimation of the nut content of Australian single-ingredient and multi-ingredient foods. J Food
Comp and Analysis, 2019. 82(September 2019).
5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015: Interactive data on risk factor burden. Cat. no. BOD 24.
6. Neale, E., et al., The effect of nut consumption on heart health: an updated systematic review of the literature. 2018. Nuts for Life, unpublished.
7. Li, H., et al., Nut consumption and risk of metabolic syndrome and overweight/obesity: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies and
randomized trials. Nutr Metab (Lond), 2018. 15: p. 46.
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