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Can Nuts Mitigate Malnutrition in Older Adults? A Conceptual Framework

Sze-Yen Tan, Siew Ling Tey, and Rachel Brown
Nutrients2018, 10(10), 1448;

The proportion of adults aged over 60 years in the world is expected to reach 20% by the year 2050. Ageing is associated with several physiological changes that increase the risk of malnutrition among this population. Malnutrition is characterized by deficiencies or insufficiencies of macro- and micronutrients. Malnutrition has detrimental effects on the health, wellbeing, and quality of life in older adults. Nuts are rich in energy, unsaturated fats, and protein, as well as other nutrients that provide a range of health benefits. While the effects of nuts on overnutrition have been studied extensively, very few studies have been specifically designed to understand the role of nuts in mitigating undernutrition in the elderly. Therefore, this review explores the potential role of nuts in improving the nutritional status of older adults who are at risk of undernutrition. Several properties of whole nuts, some of which appear important for addressing overnutrition, (e.g., hardness, lower-than-expected nutrient availability, satiety-enhancing effects) may limit their effectiveness as a food to combat undernutrition. However, we propose that modifications such as transforming the physical form of nuts, addressing the timing of nut ingestion, and introducing variety may overcome these barriers. This review also discusses the feasibility of using nuts to prevent and reverse undernutrition among older adults. We conclude with a recommendation to conduct clinical studies in the future to test this conceptual framework.