A new study* , published this week in the open access journal Nutrients, compares the nutrient adequacy and diet quality of those who consume tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts), and non-tree nut consumers in a nationally representative population. Tree nut consumption was associated with better nutrient adequacy for most nutrients that are lacking in the diets of many Americans, and with better diet quality.
Researchers looked at 14,386 adults, 19+ years of age, participating in the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). Usual intake was derived from two separate 24-hour recalls. The difference between this study and previous research is that this one uses usual intake and compares nutrient adequacy versus nutrient intake. The latter simply looks at the amount of a particular nutrient an individual consumes. Nutrient adequacy, on the other hand, measures how much of a particular nutrient is consumed in relation to the recommend amount for that nutrient.
Tree nut consumers accounted for approximately 6% of the population and their mean usual intake was 44 grams (or approximately 1.5 ounces) per day. Compare this to the per capita intake of just 3.3 grams of tree nuts per day. When it comes to nutrient adequacy for most nutrients, tree nut consumers fared better than non-consumers. The data showed that, compared to non-consumers, tree nut consumers had a lower percentage of the population consuming usual intakes of nutrients below the recommended levels of vitamins A (22 ± 5 vs. 49 ± 1), E (38 ± 4 vs. 94 ± 0.4) and C (17 ± 4 vs. 44 ± 1); folate (2.5 ± 1.5 vs. 12 ± 0.6); calcium (26 ± 3 vs. 44 ± 1); iron (3 ± 0.6 vs. 9 ± 0.4); magnesium (8 ± 1 vs. 60 ± 1); and zinc (1.5 ± 1 vs. 13 ± 1). Tree nut consumers had a higher percentage (p < 0.0001) of the population over the recommendation for adequate intake for dietary fiber (33 ± 3 vs. 4 ± 0.3) and potassium (12 ± 3 mg vs. 2 ± 0.2 mg). The Healthy Eating Index-2005, an objective measure of diet quality, was significantly higher (p < 0.0001) in tree nut consumers (61 ± 0.7 vs. 52 ± 0.3) than non-consumers.
“Consumption of tree nuts should be encouraged, as part of a healthy diet, by health professionals to improve diet quality and nutrient adequacy,” according to Carol O’Neil, PhD, MPH, RD, lead author on the paper and Professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. The authors also stressed the need for nutrition education programs that increase awareness and consumption of tree nuts.
“This new research further supports the need to encourage people to eat tree nuts for overall health,” states Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., Executive Director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF). “In 2003, FDA (in its qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease) recommended that people eat 1.5 ounces of nuts per day–well above current consumption levels–so we need to encourage people to grab a handful of nuts every day.”
The International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF) represents the research and education arm of the International Tree Nut Council (INC). INC is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to supporting nutrition research and education for consumers and health professionals throughout the world and promoting new product development for tree nut products. Members include those associations and organizations that represent the nine tree nuts (almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts) in more than 40 producing countries.
*O’Neil, C.E., T.A. Nicklas, V.L. Fulgoni III, 2015. Tree Nut Consumption Is Associated with Better Nutrient Adequacy and Diet Quality in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005–2010. Nutrients. 7:595-607. doi:10.3390/nu7010595