SAN DIEGO — Modest intake of nuts may be associated with lower odds of developing metabolic syndrome in adolescents, according to a new study being presented at ENDO 2015.

Adolescents who ate at least 12.9 grams of nuts per day, which is the equivalent of eating a small handful three times per week, had less than half the odds of developing metabolic syndrome, Roy Kim, MD, MPH, lead study investigator and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health in Dallas, said.

Further, metabolic syndrome risk decreased with each additional gram of nut intake per day, but only up to 50 grams per day, which is equal to about 1.8 ounces. At that point, the benefit tapered off. Dr. Kim theorized that, at higher intakes, any benefits may have been offset due to high calorie counts. Tree nuts contain fiber, heart-healthy unsaturated fats and other nutrients, but are relatively high in calories.

For the study, Dr. Kim and colleagues analyzed data on 2,233 U.S. adolescents aged 12 to 19 years who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2010.

Results revealed that only 8.9% of teenagers consumed 12.9 grams or more of tree nuts or peanuts per day. White teens appeared to consume twice as many nuts as Latino or black teens, according to the data, with white teens consuming an average of 0.22 ounces per day compared with 0.11 ounces for other ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, the study also showed that more than 75% of all teens reported eating no nuts at all.

“We were really surprised how many teenagers ate no nuts at all,” Dr. Kim said.

These results suggest that prospective studies are warranted, according to Dr. Kim, but until those studies are completed, increased nut consumption among adolescents should be promoted to help improve metabolic health among adolescents.

A relationship between eating nuts and improved metabolic health previously has been shown in adults. However, this is the first study of its kind to demonstrate this relationship in adolescents.

“The main message is that as in adults, nut intake in adolescents is associated with health benefits and a lower risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Kim. “Just making a simple dietary change could have a significant impact.”

The overall prevalence of metabolic syndrome was 7.4% in this study. Metabolic syndrome was defined according to published pediatric criteria and children aged 10 years or older receive a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome if they have any three of five features: abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low HDL, hypertension and high blood sugar.

Dr. Kim said the benefits from eating nuts appear to be due to the fiber, nutrients, oils and other compounds in nuts, and parents need to make sure nuts are a regular part of an adolescent’s diet. 

“I think from a public health perspective we could be doing a better job of promoting nut intake,” Dr. Kim said in an interview with Endocrinology Advisor.  

Reference

  1. Kim R et al. Abstract FRI-146. Presented at: The Endocrine Society’s 97th Annual Meeting & Expo (ENDO 2015); March 5-8, 2015; San Diego.