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Students walking through the QuadrangleMonday 15 October 2018 11:14am

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Associate Professor Rachel Brown

They improve health, reduce the risk of heart disease, and can potentially make us leaner, but too many New Zealanders are shying away from nuts. University of Otago researchers are keen to crack this conundrum.

The group, led by Associate Professor Rachel Brown, of the Department of Human Nutrition, collected information from 489 health professionals and 710 members of the public about how they perceive nuts, and what motivates or deters the public from eating them.

The study, published in journal Peer J, found both the general public and health professionals thought nuts were healthy, contained good fats and protein, and other important nutrients such as selenium.

However, Associate Professor Brown says one of the most interesting findings was most people would eat more nuts if they were told to by a health professional, but only around 4 per cent had received such advice.

“The general population also indicated they would eat more nuts if they improved health, were more affordable, or improved the nutrient content and balance of fat in their diets.”

She believes these positive perceptions and motivators could be used in promotional material aimed at improving nut consumption.

Some of the barriers people identified as stopping them from eating nuts were cost, potential weight gain and eating too much fat. However, Associate Professor Brown believes there is misinformation around these concerns.

“All nuts contain heart-healthy fats, and although individual types differ in nutrient composition they are all considered to be nutrient-dense.

“Different forms may suit different types of people. For example, the elderly with dentition issues may prefer nut butters, ground or sliced nuts.

“Those who are worried about their body weight may prefer whole nuts as they tend to be more satiating and some of the fat from eating whole nuts is lost in the faeces, so in essence they are consuming less calories.

“Most of the research on nuts shows that nut consumers are leaner than non-nut consumers, and adding nuts to the regular diet does not result in adverse weight gain, especially when nuts replace snacks high in sugar and fat,” she says.

It is also important to put the cost of a serve of nuts into perspective. A 30g serve can range from $0.26 for peanuts, up to $2.37 for pine nuts; in comparison, a banana is about $0.70 and a muesli bar about $0.50.

Individual nuts provide useful amounts of vitamin E, folate, calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron and potassium, and Associate Professor Brown recommends eating 30g of nuts a day, and mixing up the varieties.

For more information, contact:

Associate Professor Rachel Brown
Department of Human Nutrition
University of Otago

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