- Researchers from Harvard University have found increasing daily nut consumption is associated with less long-term weight gain and a lower risk of obesity in adults. The study was published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
- Analyzing data from three U.S. studies, the researchers investigated the association between changes in nut consumption over four-year intervals and concurrent weight change during 20 to 24 years of follow-up. Increases in nut consumption of half a serving daily, or about half an ounce, were "significantly associated with less weight gain per four-year interval," they said.
- Researchers noted the three studies comprised mainly Caucasian health professionals with relatively higher socioeconomic status, so the results may not extend to other populations.
These findings, which echo results from a 2017 European study, could be significant for consumers, growers, processors and marketers of tree nuts. Although the researchers cautioned that people shouldn't start consuming large amounts of them, just a small handful daily could be enough to make a difference. According to the study, about 10 walnuts or a dozen almonds a day can help with weight loss.
Plenty of consumers are looking for foods and beverages that might assist them in losing weight. A recent report found 37% of consumers use food as a functional tool to achieve their health goals. Researchers on this latest study said people who ate nuts occasionally gained an average of about one pound annually, while consistent nut consumers gained an average of about half that. That factor may deter consumers who don't want to eat nuts regularly.
While tree nuts contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, taste, crunch and flavor, they also have a relatively high amount of calories and saturated fat. However, monounsaturated fat found in many tree nuts is the so-called "good fat." When consumed in moderation and to replace additional saturated fats and trans fats, it is believed to help reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. Nuts also contain fiber and protein.
For these reasons, nuts have become a popular and convenient snack — and a tasty, crunchy and flavorful addition to foods and beverages. Manufacturers are increasingly adding them to snack items or processing them into plant-based beverages. Danone, Blue Diamond, Milkadamia and many other food makers produce nut-based milk beverages. Kellogg's RXBAR makes clean-label snack bars containing cashews, almonds and dates.
There are likely to be even more product launches containing nuts in the near future. According to GlobalData figures cited by TNA Solutions, nuts have a global market value of $15.8 billion and are the third-largest market segment in the snacks category following processed snacks and potato chips.
Further adding to nut advantages, almonds are considered "healthy" under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's regulatory definition, so the term can be used on product labels. However, almonds take a relatively large amount of water to grow, so they aren't considered as sustainable. Some California almond growers have tried to change that perception, recently applying water-saving technologies and reusing shells and hulls, to bolster their green credentials.
While the nut industry may not be allowed under FDA regulations to brag about their product's apparent connection with weight loss, finding ways to advertise the Harvard study results might be another useful marketing tool to attract consumers.