The Australian Dietary Guidelines – based on an analysis of more than 55,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers and supported by comprehensive dietary modelling – establish recommendations for the types and amounts of food to consume for good health and chronic disease prevention.
We congratulate the NHMRC for acknowledging the important role nuts play in health and for dispelling many nut myths – particularly the new development that there is a lack of association between nuts and weight gain.
Nuts are identified as a specific food to help “achieve and maintain a healthy weight” (Guideline 1, pg20) because there is evidence to suggest that eating 65-110g of nuts a day is not related to an increase risk of weight gain in the short term Grade C evidence (Note the full body of evidence on nuts and weight was not assessed as the NHMRC requested the literature review cover research from the release of the last dietary guidelines around 2002 to 2009 only).
Proposed mechanisms for effects of nuts on weight are included in the guidelines: increased satiety, increased faecal fat excretion, increased thermogenesis and increased fat oxidation (pg52).
Nuts remain in the lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans food group but it’s exciting to see that healthy fats are back on the menu. Guideline 3 recommends a replacement of saturated fat with healthy fats such as those in “nut butters/pastes” rather than limiting all fats (pg v, 71). This is a fundamental change in policy as no longer do the guidelines recommend limiting total fat but the necessity of replacing saturated fat with sources of healthy fats. This will do much to overcome the low fat diet mantra of years gone by.
Nuts’ role in cholesterol lowering and heart disease risk reduction is also acknowledged – evidence suggests consumption of nuts (65–110g per day) is associated with a reduction in blood cholesterol a surrogate marker for cardiovascular disease Grade C evidence (pg 51).
Children and adults are eating so few nuts (4-6g a day) that the recommended serving size of 30g – or as we like to think of it “a handful” – means including nuts as snacks or ingredients in meals regularly. Sample meal plans include nuts as afternoon snacks. An additional 10g of nuts can also be used in place of other healthy fat sources. Although the frequency of eating nuts varies depending on age, gender, life stage and exercise level, from 2-14 serves of nuts a week, Nuts for Life will continue to promote the simplified message of eating a daily handful of nuts.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women do not need to avoid consuming nuts for fear of causing an allergic reaction in their babies. Only women who are allergic to nuts themselves need to avoid them. The infant feeding guidelines also recommend nut butters/pastes are introduced to infants from 6months of age – remembering whole nuts/nut pieces may be a choking hazard to little ones (pg 54).
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating – see food model above – shows the food groups as a proportion of a plate and in the lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans food group nuts are represented by a bowl of “mixed nuts”.
All documents and meal plans can be found on www.eatforhealth.gov.au website including consumer materials.
So there are many reasons why you should recommend to friends, family, clients and patients to eat a handful of nuts each day.
National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.