January 30, 2023 - Podcast

Episode 341 — Improving nutrition

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington found that adding an ounce of walnuts, or a handful, to the daily diet of children and adults who do not normally consume nuts, improves overall diet quality.

While nut consumption is already promoted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as part of a healthy dietary pattern, consumers are often not eating enough alongside whole grains, fruits and vegetables, says Krisha Thiagarajah, lead researcher on the study and a senior lecturer of nutrition.

The underconsumption of nutritious foods like walnuts as part of a balanced diet can result in nutrient inadequacies. This is one of the few studies looking at the typical diet of both children and adults and simulating how the simple addition of walnuts to the diet could help achieve better nutritional status. Incorporating walnuts into snacks and meals may be an easy option for adults and children to consider as part of their diet.   

Advanced statistical modeling techniques were used to see what would happen when one ounce of walnuts was added to the typical daily diet of nearly 8,000 Americans who do not currently eat nuts. Researchers analyzed data by age group, ranging from 4 to 71 years old or older, and gender. 

Researchers primarily wanted to see how adding a handful of walnuts to the typical U.S. diet could change intakes in nutrients of public health concern identified by the 2020–2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including potassium, dietary fiber, and magnesium. The researchers evaluated the diet quality with and without the added ounce of walnuts using the 2015 Healthy Eating Index.

The results from the study showed that adding the ounce of walnuts significantly improved diet quality and fiber intake across all ages and genders. Data exhibited an increase in the percentage of adults above the recommended daily intake of potassium and reduced the percent of adults and children with intakes below the daily needs for magnesium and folate.

The modeling that was done as part of this research is highly important as it allowed the researchers to evaluate broad dietary implications for the general public with the addition of walnuts to the diet which could have meaningful impacts to overall health, says Thiagarajah.

While this modeling study demonstrates potential positive nutritional impact with walnut consumption, further observational studies or well-designed randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm these results.