Researchers Suggest Nuts Be Given Better “Position” on Food Guide Pyramid

What better way to start out the holidays than knowing that one of the season’s favorite foods – pecans – offers an array of health benefits. Three recent studies from Harvard University, two of which were published in the November 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), all confirm that nuts like pecans do and should play a role in healthy diet.

One of the JAMA studies that evaluated the diets of 83,818 female nurses over 16 years found that eating nuts may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Previous studies also have inversely linked several components of nuts with risk of type 2 diabetes, notes this study. Nuts such as pecans are high in unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) fat and other nutrients that may improve glucose and insulin stability, according to the study. It also states that type 2 diabetes affects approximately 16 million people in the United States and 135 million people worldwide.

Regarding an erroneous assumption often made about nuts, the authors write, “There have been concerns that frequent nut consumption may result in weight gain and increased risk of coronary heart disease because of the high fat content. However, in our cohort, we did not find an appreciable association between nut consumption and weight change.” The researchers add, “Given the observed inverse association between nuts and risk of coronary heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes, it is advisable to recommend regular nut consumption as a replacement for refined grain products or red or processed meats, which would avoid increasing caloric intake.”

The other study published in the November 27 issue of JAMA points to nuts as one food that should be included in an optimal diet to reduce risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The authors of this paper conducted an analysis of numerous studies already conducted on diet and CHD and found that based on compelling evidence from all the studies, investigations and clinical trials over the past several decades, one of the three important strategies to effectively prevent CHD includes the consumption of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains and low in refined grains.

The third paper from Harvard, published in the December American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, notes that the traditional food guide pyramid should be totally revamped to place foods such as nuts in a more prominent location. According to Dr. Walter Willett and his colleagues, some fat-based foods, like nuts, olive oil or fish can help improve health. This study assessed the diets of more than 100,000 men and women and found that those who ate alternative diets to the well-known food guide pyramid, with a distinction between good and bad fats and carbohydrates, lowered their risk of chronic disease by almost 40 percent in men and 30 percent in women. In proposing a new order for the pyramid, the researchers are suggesting that all proteins not be treated equally as they are now, and that nuts (such as pecans) and beans are better than fish and eggs.

Commenting on these studies, Sue Taylor, R.D., director of nutrition communications for the National Pecan Shellers Association, states, “We are pleased to see that important research is confirming that nuts like pecans offer many health benefits.” She adds, “All of this new research should help assure consumers that eating pecans can be beneficial to their health, especially at this time of year when pecans are a traditional part of holiday meals and snacks.”

Taylor concludes, “And with more than 200 million pounds of pecans being harvested this year, consumers should know that besides tasting good, pecans are good for you.”