Tree nut consumption may reduce weight and health risks

Published on March 7, 2012 at 1:01 AM · No Comments

March is National Nutrition Month and as the spotlight shines on all things healthy, celebrate with a mindful snack that loves you back-California pistachios.

The theme of this year's "National Nutrition Month" is "Get your Plate in Shape." The annual campaign, created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), highlights the importance of healthy meals as well as snacks.

With U.S. children and adults consuming food more frequently than they did 30 years ago, three meals a day is no longer the norm. Instead, snacks play a predominant role in the U.S. diet and there are now more opportunities than ever before to eat, so it is important what you choose packs a nutritional punch.

Once regarded as a high-fat food that health-conscious dieters should seek to avoid, nuts are now touted as nutritional powerhouses and are an ideal healthy snack. New research, supported by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation, adds to the growing number of studies that have consistently found that those who regularly consume nuts, like pistachios, tend to weigh less and have lower odds of developing certain chronic diseases.

Tree Nut Consumers May Have Lower Weight and Reduced Risk Factors for Certain Diseases

The study, recently published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, suggests that tree nut consumers are less likely to have certain risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The researchers examined the diets of more than 13,000 adults participating in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found that tree nut consumption was associated with a lower prevalence rate of four risk factors for metabolic syndrome-abdominal obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), low HDL-C (good cholesterol) and elevated fasting glucose-as well as a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome in general, as compared to non-nut consumers. Metabolic syndrome occurs when you have a cluster of conditions that together increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In addition, tree nut consumers had higher levels of HDL-C and folate and lower levels of C-reactive protein and homocysteine, all of which are important indicators of heart health.

The researchers also discovered that, on average, tree nut consumers had significantly lower weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) compared to non-tree nut consumers. The average weight, BMI and waist circumference of tree-nut consumers were about 4 pounds, 1 kg/m2, and an inch lower, respectively, than non-consumers.

"We found that in addition to lower body weight, tree nut consumers also had a 22 percent lower risk of becoming overweight or obese and 17 percent lower risk of developing abdominal obesity than non-tree nut consumers," stated Carol O'Neil, PhD, MPH, RD, lead author of the study and Professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. This data confirms similar results found by researchers at Harvard University in 2011 which found that consumption of nuts was inversely associated with weight gain.

Give your Snack a Healthful, Mindful Makeover

In addition to being a heart healthy nut that may aid in weight management, pistachios are one of the most nutritious, delicious and filling snack options around. A 30 gram serving of pistachios, with 49 kernels and 160 calories, is an excellent source of vitamin B6, manganese and copper; important vitamins and minerals for the body. In addition, a snack of crunchy pistachios offers about three grams of dietary fiber, or 12 percent of the recommended daily value. That's more than what is found in a serving of wheat bread.

No other snack offers its own built-in visual cue of consumption. While a handful of mixed nuts can be easily consumed in less than a minute, the act of cracking into an in-shell pistachio slows your eating speed, causing you to be more mindful of your consumption. The leftover shells also serve as visual cues, reminding you of just how many you've eaten. In fact, researchers at Eastern Illinois University found that people who were served the pistachios in the shell consumed 41 percent fewer calories than those who snacked on the ready-to-eat version. They have even dubbed this mindful eating approach the "Pistachio Principle."

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