Teens, Go Nuts! It Might Boost Your Health

Metabolic syndrome risk in teens decreased with daily nut intake

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) They say teens will eat anything that isn't nailed down. If that includes nuts, it could improve teens' health.

A new study found that teens who ate nuts daily were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome. Teens who develop metabolic syndrome are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes as they get older.

Although white teens ate more nuts than blacks or Hispanics, few teens regularly ate nuts overall.

Lead study author Roy Kim, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said in a press release, “The surprising finding is that, in spite of what we know about their health benefits, the majority of teens eat no nuts at all on a typical day.”

Tree nuts are tied to a lower risk of heart disease in adults, according to Dr. Kim and colleagues. However, no one had studied whether eating nuts also made a difference for teens.

Emily M. Tuerk, MD, a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, told dailyRx News that no single food can make kids healthy.

"Of course eating nuts is just part of a healthy diet in teenagers," Dr. Tuerk said. "Developing healthy eating habits in adolescents really starts well before the teenage years. Parents are encouraged to offer a healthy variety of foods early on to their infants and toddlers to start good eating habits."

Dr. Kim and team looked at data from more than 2,000 teens who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2010.

About 7 percent of the teens in this study had metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome often occurs when someone is obese, with weight carried around the middle. It includes high blood sugar, high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides (one of the fats in the blood).

Those with metabolic syndrome also have low levels of LDL cholesterol, called the “good" cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome is known to increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when people become less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

These researchers found that teens who ate the equivalent of a small handful of nuts three times a week had half the risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to teens who ate no nuts.

Dr. Kim and colleagues found that only 9 percent of teens ate nuts at all. Whites ate twice as many nuts as Hispanics or blacks, but 75 percent of teens said they ate no nuts at all.

The risk of metabolic syndrome decreased when teens ate more nuts, up to about 1.8 ounces a day, Dr. Kim and team found. After that, the benefit tapered off. These researchers thought this might be because, at that point, the increased calories offset the benefits.

Dr. Kim and colleagues cautioned that their study did not show that eating nuts actually caused a lower risk of metabolic syndrome — only that there was a connection.

“Metabolic syndrome is a major public health problem,” Dr. Kim said. “Our findings at this stage show only a correlation and do not prove that the risk of metabolic disease in teens will go down by eating nuts. However, the results suggest the possibility that a simple dietary recommendation could have a significant impact on the metabolic health of adolescents.”

This study was presented March 6 at the at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Information on funding and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
March 6, 2015
Last Updated:
March 10, 2015