A diet low in nuts and seeds has a bigger impact on disease burden than a diet low in vegetables, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (1).

The AIHW Burden of Disease data ranked 12 dietary risk factors, based on their impact on disease.

Top three dietary risks

  1. A diet low in whole grains and high fibre cereals
  2. A diet low in fruit
  3. A diet low in nuts and seeds.

These dietary risk factors were more significant than a diet high in processed meat (4th), a diet high in sodium (5th), a diet low in vegetables (6th), and a diet high in sugar-sweetened beverages (11th).  

A diet low wholegrains and high fibre cereals was the leading dietary risk, contributing to 1.6% of the total burden in Australia in 2015. This was followed by a diet low in fruit (1.4% of total burden) and a diet low in nuts and seeds (1.3% of total burden).

Source: AIHW Australian Burden of Disease Database. https://www.aihw.gov.au

Nuts are essential for good health. Based on AIHW data, eating enough nuts is more important than eating enough vegetables, to reduce the burden of disease in the Australian population (1).

Food for thought on dietary guidance

The AIHW Burden of Disease data – which has been published since the release of the existing (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines – highlights how important it is to consider foods and dietary patterns for good health, including a greater emphasis on plant-based foods, like nuts. Food for thought as the National Health and Medical Research Council reviews the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Nuts for Life - Consumption & benefits

What is burden of disease?

The AIHW describes burden of disease data as the best measure of the impact of different diseases or injuries on a population.

Burden of disease analysis quantifies the gap between a population’s actual health and an ideal level of health (that is, every person living without disease or injury to their maximum life span) in a given year.

What else did the AIHW study find?

Thirty-eight per cent of the total health burden faced by Australians could have been prevented by removing modifiable risk factors, such as tobacco use, overweight and obesity, and dietary risks.  

The 5 risk factors that caused the greatest health burden in 2015:

  • Tobacco use (responsible for 9.3% of total burden)
  • Overweight and obesity (8.4%)
  • Dietary risks (7.3%)
  • High blood pressure (5.8%) and
  • High blood plasma glucose (including diabetes) (4.7%).

Did you know? Australians are not consuming enough nuts. Only 2% of us meet the daily target of a 30g handful of nuts (2).

The enormous impact of diet

Dietary risks were the third leading risk factor contributing to the burden of disease. All dietary risks combined contributed 62% of coronary heart disease burden, 41% of type 2 diabetes burden, 34% of stroke burden and 22% of bowel cancer burden. The combination of dietary risks was linked to 41 diseases.

Source: AIHW Australian Burden of Disease Database. https://www.aihw.gov.au

Did you know? The latest Global Burden of Disease study (2019) found the top five risk factors for death in Australia were high blood pressure (contributing to an estimated 25,500 deaths), dietary risks (21,600 deaths), tobacco use (20,100 deaths), high body mass index (18,700 deaths), and high blood sugar (17,700 deaths) (2).


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015: Interactive data on risk factor burden. Cat. no. BOD 25. Canberra: AIHW. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/interactive-data-risk-factor-burden
  2. Nikodijevic, C., et al., Nut consumption in a representative survey of Australians: A secondary analysis of the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. 2019. Commissioned report for Nuts for Life, University of Wollongong.
  3. GBD 2019 Risk Factors Collaborators. Global burden of 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories, 1990–2019: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Lancet 2020; 396:1223–49. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930752-2

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