A diet rich in nuts may be associated with lower levels of biomarkers of inflammation, a finding that may help explain the health benefits of nuts, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The findings suggest people who consumed five or more servings of nuts per week had lower levels of C-reactive protein and C-reactive protein than those who never or almost never ate nuts.
In a study of more than 5,000 people, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found that greater intake of nuts was “Population studies have consistently supported a protective role of nuts against cardiometabolic disorders such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and we know that inflammation is a key process in the development of these diseases," said corresponding author Ying Bao, M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist in BWH’s Channing Division of Network Medicine.
Previously Bao and her colleagues observed an association between increased nut consumption and reduced risk of major chronic diseases and even death, but few prospective cohort studies had examined the link between nut intake and inflammation. In the current study, the research team performed a cross-sectional analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which includes more than 120,000 female registered nurses, and from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which includes more than 50,000 male health professionals. The team assessed diet using questionnaires and looked at the levels of certain telltale proteins known as biomarkers in blood samples collected from the study participants. They measured three well-established biomarkers of inflammation: C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin 6 (IL6) and tumor necrosis factor receptor 2 (TNFR2).
After adjusting for age, medical history, lifestyle and other variables, they found that participants who had consumed five or more servings of nuts per week had lower levels of CRP and IL6 than those who never or almost never ate nuts. In addition, people who substituted three servings per week of nuts in place of red meat, processed meat, eggs or refined grains had significantly lower levels of CRP and IL6.
Peanuts and tree nuts contain a number of healthful components including magnesium, fiber, L-arginine, antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids such as α-linolenic acid. Researchers have not yet determined which of these components, or if the combination of all of them, may offer protection against inflammation.
Interest in health also has been a key driver in the market in recent years with the growing positioning of nuts as a healthy snack. Nuts have evolved into so much more than just a bar snack; they are a great snack, indeed, but they go beyond simple trail mixes for athletes and a free snack for happy-hour goers. Nuts are suitable for year-round consumption, both as an impulse snack and as a planned snack for sharing during in-home family and social occasions.
Looking for insight into the top snack categories and how the “functional food" space is crossing over into the snack aisle? Join us for the Bite Sized Satisfaction: Snacking to Better Health panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 7, at SupplySide West 2016.