Let’s give nuts the health halo they deserve

by Lisa Yates Adv APD Program Manager, Nuts for Life

We all know vegetables are healthy and good for you and we need to eat more of them. Doctors, dietitians, chefs and health reporters are all happy and comfortable recommending more vegetables for all. But are they as enthusiastic about recommending we all “eat more nuts” without cautioning the portion?

Here are some interesting stats comparing nuts and vegetables:

The Australian Health Survey found Australians are eating on average just 6g of nuts a day and only 7% of Australians eat enough vegetables a day.(1)

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends a 30g serve of nuts as part of the “protein” food group and provides an allowance for an additional 10g of nuts. Nuts can be eaten twice a week to twice a day depending on age, gender, energy needs and life stage.(2) Whereas we all need at least 5 serves of vegetables every day e.g. 2 cups of salad and three ½ cups of cooked veg.

To reduce heart disease risk, diabetes risk and mortality we need 30g of nuts a day.(3,4)

To lower cholesterol a meta analysis found we need 60g of nuts a day.(5)

When eaten as part of a healthy diet, 30g of nuts a day, can contribute to heart health without weight gain.(6)

A 2016 AIHW report(7) Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011 found:

  • A “diet low in nuts and seeds” accounted for 1.4% of all disease and injury burden in 2011 (same as a “diet low in vegetables”), 
  • A “diet low in nuts and seeds” accounted for 16% of burden from coronary heart disease where as it was 10% for a “diet low in vegetables”.
  • A “diet low in nuts and seeds” accounted for 7.4% of burden from diabetes.

A recent US study(8) found not eating enough nuts and seeds is one of the biggest dietary reasons for increasing deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes in the US. The study, published in the journal JAMA, revealed the worst dietary issue was eating too much salt (linked to 9.5% of deaths) and second was a low intake of nuts and seeds (linked with 8.5% of deaths). These were ahead of not eating enough fruit and veg, and drinking too many sugary drinks.

Let’s recommend nuts with the same enthusiasm as we recommend vegetables. We need to eat more vegetables and we need to eat more nuts.

In fact they go well together – adding nuts to salads and vegetables makes veg taste better. How about a simple side – green beans with macadamias and pecans 


References

1. ABS 4364.0.55.007 - Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12.  
2. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. 
3. Afshin A et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100(1):278-88.
4. Mayhew AJ et al. Br J Nutr. 2016 Jan 28;115(2):212-25.
5. Del Gobbo LC et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1347-56.
6. Neale E, Nolan-Clark D, Tapsell L. The effect of nut consumption on heart health: A systematic review of the literature. Nuts for Life 2016.
7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 3. BOD 4. Canberra: AIHW. 
8. Micha R, Peñalvo JL et al. Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA. 2017;317(9):912-924.