Eating a modest amount of nuts appears to lower the risk for teens of developing conditions that raise the chances of heart disease later in life, new research suggests.
By "modest," investigators mean eating at least three small handfuls of nuts a week. In the study, nut-eating teens had less than half the risk for developing metabolic syndrome as those who did not eat nuts.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that heighten the risk of early heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The bad news is that roughly 75 percent of U.S. teens eat no nuts, the study authors said.
"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," said lead investigator Dr. Roy Kim, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children's Health in Dallas.
"Metabolic syndrome is a major public health problem. [But] 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," Kim said. "However, the results suggest the possibility that a simple dietary recommendation could have a significant impact on the metabolic health of adolescents."
Kim and his colleagues presented their findings Friday at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in San Diego. Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
About one in nine teens has metabolic syndrome, prior research has shown. The diagnosis is made when a child over age 10 is found to have at least three telltale conditions: obesity in the abdominal region, high triglycerides, low "good" cholesterol (HDL), high blood pressure or high blood sugar.
The new study findings stem from an analysis involving more than 2,000 teens who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2010.
The research team found that every additional gram of nuts consumed per day led to a drop in metabolic syndrome risk, though the benefit topped out at 50 grams per day (equal to almost 2 ounces).
The benefit may be traced back to the unsaturated fat and fiber typically found in nuts.
That said, less than 9 percent of teens were found to consume the minimum amount of nuts needed to see a benefit.
The finding comes on the heels of a U.S. National Cancer Institute study released earlier this week that eating nuts, including peanuts and peanut butter, is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease.