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Just Nuts about Nuts
Results from the 2007 Nuts and Health Symposium Published in Journal of Nutrition

“Tree nuts, irrespective of which nut you’re con-suming, have now been shown to reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease and type 2 dia-betes."

The August issue of Journal of Nutrition features a series of publications presenting the results from the 2007 Nuts and Health Symposium, for which CHORI senior scientist Janet King, PhD, was the co-chair. A member of CHORI’s Center for Nutrition and Center for the Prevention of Obesity, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes, Dr. King brought considerable expertise to the Symposium, having already chaired the 2005 national Dietary Guidelines Committee, which is tasked with reviewing all the literature about diet and chronic disease every five years, as well as having chaired the first symposium on the intake of nut and health, held in 1997.

“When we held the first nut symposium, we reviewed the literature to see if there was any evidence that including nuts in the diet have a health impact. Very preliminary studies suggested that eating nuts regularly might reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. Those findings lead to a huge surge in research on the role of nuts in health, including the approval of a 2003 Qualified Health Claim that eating nuts may help reduce heart disease,” explains Dr. King, who is also a member of the California Walnut Commission and their Scientific Advisory Board.

The results of the 2007 symposium can be found in 7 different Journal of Nutrition articles in the August issue, all of which underscore the benefits of adding nuts to a daily diet. In spite of the benefits of nut consumption, however, many Americans fail to eat nuts regularly because of their high fat and calorie levels.

“Yes, it is true that nuts are high in fat and calories, but the surveys of individuals who eat nuts regularly show that they don’t gain weight – in fact, people who eat nuts seem to be thinner than those who don’t,” Dr. King says.

This could be the result of any number of factors, such as the intake of nuts near dinner time reducing the amount of dinner portions consumed, or the fact that not all the fat in nuts is actually absorbed by the body. In addition to fat fears, consumption could also be reduced by the fact that nuts are grouped as part of the meat and legumes group on the current food pyramid suggesting that one can substitute nuts for meat or chicken.

“I think that sends a strange message to the public,” says Dr. King. “You might have a peanut butter sandwich instead of a turkey sandwich, but would you sit down and have a handful of cashews instead of a pork chop?”

Scientists at the symposium concluded that in the United States in particular, positioning nuts as a healthy snack instead of a meat substitute could enhance nut intake.
“We know that America get about 25% of their daily calories from snacks, so we think it’s more appropriate to encourage nuts as a good snack rather than a meat substitute,” Dr. King says.
In addition to identifying the health benefits of nuts and their current lack of consumption, the Journal of Nutrition publications also highlight the need for continuing expansion of nut research to address a number of issues, such as determining nutrient and vitamin absorption from nuts, understanding better the variety of phytonutrients in nuts and their benefits, and establishing a better way to evaluate daily nut consumption.

As Dr. King says, “We eat nuts in many different ways – as snacks and as ingredients in baked goods, sauces and other recipes, which makes it really difficult to quantitate. If we really want to know their health effects, we need a robust questionnaire or some other way of more precisely determining nut intake.”
While nut researchers clearly have an abundance of research in which to immerse themselves in the next 10 years, the verdict gleaned from the last 10 years of nut research is already in: eating about 1 to 1.5 ounces a day of nuts isn’t nutty at all – but good for your heart and your over all health.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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