The solution to America’s obesity epidemic that plagues more than one-third of the population may lie in a simple gesture: eating. While at first glance it seems counterintuitive, the consumption of eating an ounce of tree nuts per week may lower the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, according to a recent study.

Nuts — energy-dense foods high in total fat — have typically been shunned from people’s diets due to the belief they may lead to weight gain. However, contrary to popular belief, tree nuts are high in healthful fats that help the body shift from sugar-burning mode to fat-burning mode. The Mayo Clinic says tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, and walnuts contain high levels of high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, or good cholesterol, and low levels of C-reactive proteins — known to be the main cause of inflammation in the body and heart. These properties have been known to prevent heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Now researchers have unveiled the daily consumption of tree nuts can lower the risk of abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome.

In the study, published in the journal PLoS One, lead researcher Dr. Karen Jaceldo-Siegl and her colleagues, examined the relationships of nut consumption, metabolic syndrome (MetS), and obesity in a large cohort of Seventh-day Adventist men and women in the U.S. Data was obtained from 803 participants involved in the Adventist Health Study-2 — a relatively healthy population with a wide range of nut intake. The participants were randomly selected by church and then within the church by gender and age. The researchers had a special interest in black Adventists and therefore oversampled this minority population (45 percent).

A validated food frequency questionnaire was used to measure both tree nut and peanut intake together and separately by the researchers. Intake of total nuts, tree nuts, and peanuts were assessed. This served to classify the participants into either: low tree nut/low peanut, low tree/high peanut, high tree nut/high peanut, and high tree/low peanut consumers.

The mean intake of tree nuts was found to be 16 grams per day among high consumers and five grams per day among low consumers. Overall, the researchers found 28 grams, or a one-ounce serving of tree nuts per week was associated with a seven percent lower MetS risk. “Interestingly, while overall nut consumption was associated with lower prevalence of MetS, tree nuts specifically appear to provide beneficial effects on MetS, independent of demographic, lifestyle, and other dietary factors,” Jaceldo-Siegl said in the news release. “Furthermore, they also found that high tree nut consumers had “significantly lower prevalence of obesity” compared to the low tree nut and low peanut/tree nut groups.” Based on the results, the researchers hypothesized doubling the consumption of tree nuts could possibly reduce MetS risk by 14 percent.

MetS is a term given to a cluster of risk factors that have been found to be associated with death, a twofold increase for the risk of cardiovascular disease and a fivefold increase in the occurrence of type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.  This health condition affects 35 percent of adults and is attributed to underlying causes such as obesity, being overweight, physical inactivity, and genetic factors.

The results provide evidence concrete evidence that consuming nuts can vastly improve a person’s health. In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration’s qualified claims about Cardiovascular Disease Risk recommended that people eat 1.5 ounces of nuts per day, which is considered to be well above current consumption levels. “…we need to encourage people to get their handful of nuts every day,” said Maureen Ternus, executive director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF), which funded the study.

In a similar study published in NEJM, researchers found that regularly eating walnuts or cashews could reduce a person’s risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, and other causes. Although, they did not know why nuts appear to convey such health benefits, they speculated the unsaturated fatty acids, minerals and other healthy nutrients led to the reduction in cholesterol, inflammation, and other health issues. “Sometimes when you eat nuts you eat less of something else like potato chips,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, a University of Miami neurologist who is also a former heart association president, The Associated Press reported.

Tree nuts may potentially ward off obesity, MetS, heart disease, and diabetes.

 

Sources:

Fraser GE, Haddad E, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Oda K and Sabaté J. Tree Nuts Are Inversely Associated with Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: The Adventist Health Study-2. PLoS One. 2014.

Bao Y, Fuchs CS, Han J, Hu FB, Giovannucci EL, Stampfer MJ et al. Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. NEJM. 2013.