A new study suggests advice to eat a ‘handful’ of nuts, rather than a ‘30g serving’, could be a better way to get more people eating enough nuts (1).

The New Zealand-based researchers found that when using a ‘handful’ to describe a serving of nuts, people were more likely to meet the 30g of nuts per day recommended in dietary guidelines.

The 120 study participants were asked to take from a large bowl of nuts:

  • What they perceived as a ‘usual serving’ of nuts,
  • A ‘handful’ of nuts,
  • A ‘small handful’ of nuts,
  • A ‘large handful’ of nuts, and
  • What they believed to be equal to 30g of nuts.

Eighty-three per cent chose a portion that was at least 80% of the recommended 30g/day target when asked to take a ‘handful’, compared to just 63% when asked to take a ‘30g serving’.

The University of Otago research is the first of its kind to assess whether a ‘handful’ is a useful way to guide recommendations for nut intake.

It appears a ‘handful’ can be used as a practical tool to guide recommended nut intake, and increases the amount selected, compared to instructions to take a ‘30g serving’ (1).

Why eating enough nuts matters

Regular nut consumption is linked with a host of benefits, including a reduced risk of chronic disease and, in particular, cardiovascular disease (2-5). A major study reported the relative risk reduction per 28g/day increase in nut intake was 21% for cardiovascular disease and 22% for all-cause mortality (2).

Did you know? Most Australians don’t consume nuts regularly enough and in sufficient amounts to reap the health benefits. In fact, only 2% of Australians meet the daily target of a 30g handful of nuts (6).

The study also found that more of the participants chose servings in excess of 40g, when asked to take a ‘handful’, compared to when they were asked to take a ‘30g serving’.

But is this a problem?

No, in fact research tells us that the regular consumption of nuts reduces total and LDL-cholesterol in a dose-dependent manner (7). So, the University of Otago researchers suggest intake of higher doses of nuts is not a concern for these cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Eating more than 30g of nuts daily is beneficial in helping to reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as total and LDL cholesterol.  

And despite nuts being rich in healthy fats (and therefore kilojoules), research indicates that regular nuts eaters are actually leaner than those who don’t eat nuts (8).  

A major review of 33 trials showed that consuming a nut-containing diet did not increase body weight, body mass index, or waist circumference, compared with control diets (9). Other more recent meta-analyses also support these findings (10,11).

The University of Otago research found a small number of people chose portions that were particularly large or small, suggesting some people require more support for a handful to be a useful guide.

Yet despite this, the findings still support the concept of a ‘handful’ as a practical way to get more people closer to the target of 30g/day.

The bottom line

This study is the first to consider how useful a ‘handful’ of nuts is, compared to a ‘30g serving’ or ‘usual serving’, when talking nut serving sizes. A ‘handful’ is a practical way to get more people closer to the target intake of 30g/day of nuts. And that can only be a good thing when so many Australians fall short! Have you had a healthy handful today?


  1. Brown, R., et al., Is a handful an effective way to guide nut recommendations? Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2021. 18: 7812.
  2. Aune, D., et al., Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med, 2016. 14: 207.
  3. Becerra-Tomas, N., et al., Nut consumption and incidence of cardiovascular diseases and cardiovascular disease mortality: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutr Rev, 2019. 77: 691–709.
  4. Grosso, G., et al., Nut consumption and all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr, 2015. 101: 783–93.
  5. Larsson, SC., et al., Nut consumption and incidence of seven cardiovascular diseases. Heart, 2018. 104: 1615–20.
  6. 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.
  7. Sabate, J., Oda, K., Ros, E. Nut consumption and blood lipid levels: A pooled analysis of 25 intervention trials. Arch Intern Med, 2010. 170: 821–27.
  8. Martinez-Gonzalez, MA., Bes-Rastrollo, M. Nut consumption, weight gain and obesity: Epidemiological evidence. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis, 2011. 21: S40–45.
  9. Flores-Mateo, G., et al., Nut intake and adiposity: Meta-analysis of clinical trials. Am J Clin Nutr, 2013. 97: 1346–55.
  10. Akhlaghi, M., et al., Effect of nuts on energy intake, hunger, and fullness, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2020. 60: 84–93.
  11. Guarneiri, LL., Cooper, JA. Intake of nuts or nut products does not lead to weight gain, independent of dietary substitution instructions: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Adv Nutr, 2020. 12: 384–401.

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