Could revised calorie content boost nut consumption?

20 Jan 2020

Researchers from the USDA have discovered that tree nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachios may have fewer calories than previously thought, and food firms are starting to reflect this on pack. Could fewer calories prompt consumers to eat more nuts?

Consumers are well aware that nuts are a healthy snack, but may be put off eating them because of their relatively high calorie content. In most national dietary guidelines, consumers are advised to eat nuts as part of a healthy diet, particularly for their high unsaturated fat content and role in heart health. However, some researchers have found that consumers looking to lose weight are more likely to avoid eating nuts – despite a growing body of research backing their potential as an aid to weight management.

Could revised calorie content boost nut consumption?
Studies have linked increased nut consumption with better weight management

Now, research from the US Department of Agriculture, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has suggested that part of the energy found in tree nuts – and possibly other foods like whole grains and peanuts – could be locked within plant cells, meaning that fewer calories are digested and absorbed than previously thought. One of the USDA’s lead researchers, Dr David Baer, claims the current way of counting calories in foods is outdated, based on a century-old technique.

US nut bar manufacturer KIND has just announced that it intends to revise the calorie counts of its products to reflect this research, the first company to do so.

Nuts are an energy dense food, and officially contain about 160-200 calories per 30-gram serving. But USDA researchers suggest tree nuts actually contribute about 20% fewer calories, so about 128-160 calories per serving.

Despite consumer fears that nuts could contribute to weight gain, studies have shown the opposite to be the case. A 2017 study examined nut intake and changes in weight over five years among more than 373,000 Europeans from 10 countries. Average weight gain over the period was 2.1 kg, but those who ate the most nuts gained the least weight and were also 5% less likely to become overweight or obese.

Many studies looking at nuts’ health benefits have been backed by organisations that represent the nut industry, such as The International Dried Fruit and Nut Council, the Almond Board of California and the California Walnut Commission, all of which use research into nuts’ health benefits in their marketing strategies.

Whether revised calorie counts would be enough to boost consumption remains to be seen, but consumers are already open to including more nuts in their diets. Nut consumption in the European Union is steadily increasing, as consumers see nuts as a healthy snack, which is plant-based and recognisably natural. According to Eurostat figures, the EU accounts for about 40% of global nut imports.

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