From peanuts to macadamias and almonds, there are many nuts to choose from, but only a handful of Australians are getting enough of them in their diets.

Just two per cent of Australians are eating the recommended 30 grams a day of nuts, a University of Wollongong study published in Cambridge’s Public Health Nutrition journal last month found.

Most Australians need to increase their nut consumption six-fold – the equivalent to eating an extra nine kilograms of nuts a year – in order to reap health benefits, the research funded by Nuts for Life found.

The study, which analysed data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the National Nutrition and Physical Health Survey, is the first to examine nut consumption among Australians, taking into account nuts eaten whole as well as those in foods such as cereal and muesli bars.

“This is really our first look on a population scale at the amount of nuts that Australians eat, and what it’s indicating is that generally we’re not really meeting recommendations,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Neale, an accredited practising dietitian.

Diets lacking in nuts mean that many Australians are missing out on nutritional and protective health benefits, including improved heart health, reduced risk of diabetes and weight management, she said.

A handful of nuts a day keeps the doctor away

Dietitians recommend people eat 30 grams of nuts a day – about a handful – to gain protective health benefits.

The recommended daily intake of nuts is associated with a 29 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, a 15 per cent reduced risk of cancer, a 13 per cent reduced risk of type two diabetes, and a 15 per cent reduced risk of death from all causes.

Australians who ate nuts regularly also had higher intakes of key nutrients including fibre, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamin E, the study found.

However, on average Australians ate just 4.6 grams of nuts a day, the study found, while ‘nut consumers’ ate around 11.6 grams a day.

Around 60 per cent of those surveyed reported not eating any nuts at all.

Nuts should be regularly included in healthy meals and snacks, Dr Neale said.

To reach the recommended target, Australians will need to go from “infrequent nut consumption, averaging only two to three nuts a day, to their more regular inclusion in healthy meals and snacks, averaging a handful a day”, she said.

‘Fat phobias’ may be preventing people from eating nuts

The reasons Australians are eschewing nuts are not clear, but researchers believe that ‘fat phobias’ and myths surrounding the foodstuff may be to blame.

“Nuts are energy-dense foods and both consumers and health professionals continue to raise concerns that eating
nuts could cause weight gain,” Dr Neale said.

“It’s important to correct this misconception about nuts and encourage including a handful of nuts daily as part of a healthy diet.”

There is no evidence to suggest that eating a moderate amount of nuts leads to weight gain, higher BMI, or waist circumference, Dr Neale said.

“We didn’t find an association between nut consumption and having a higher body weight,” she said.

But misguided concerns may be preventing people from snacking on nuts, which are rich in protein, good fats and fibre and can help sate hunger and reduce appetite.

“Research spanning 20 years has shown eating nuts does not cause weight gain. Rather, regular nut consumption may help with weight management by helping people feel full and encouraging consumption of other healthy foods,” Dr Neale said.