August 18, 2021
Globally, humans are living longer than ever before. However, older adults are at increased risk for under-nutrition and poorer health as they age. Ensuring the good health and wellbeing of older adults is of utmost importance. Since nuts are a good source of protein, healthy unsaturated fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals, can they be a pragmatic way to promote good nutrition and health?
Our answer is YES, and here’s why.
Nuts and Older Adults’ Nutrition
Older adults aged 60 years and older are prone to poor dietary intake and malnutrition. This can be remedied by including a small amount of nuts to the diet, such as almonds, cashews, macadamia, pistachios, walnuts. However, while nuts are high in essential nutrients, they may not be suitable for older adults. For example, older adults may suffer from poor appetite, and the hard texture of nuts will present as a major challenge to those with dentition issues. Therefore, to fully attain the benefits of nuts, some modifications may be needed to suit the older adult population. In a review, we proposed the following strategies for older adults:
- Consider eating nut butter instead of whole nuts. Transforming nut structures will make them texturally appropriate. Additionally, in this form, the essential nutrients from nuts are more readily absorbed by the body.
- Include a variety of nuts to avoid boredom due to the repeated consumption of the same nuts. This will also diversify the nutrients from different nuts.
- Eat nuts as snacks between meals. This will ensure that food intake during main meals is not affected by the satiating effects of nuts.
Nuts and Older Adults’ Health
Our previous work has described the roles of nuts in the prevention and management of overweight, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In older adults, healthy ageing, and optimal physical and cognitive functions are also imperative in maintaining independence and enjoying a continued high quality of life. Our latest review targeted these aspects, and here are some of our key findings:
- Nut consumption may slow down the shortening of telomere, which are ‘caps’ that protect chromosomes (that contain our DNA) in the cells. In other words, nut consumption may promote the longevity of cells in the body and reduce age-related diseases. This relationship was stronger when nuts were incorporated as part of a healthy diet.
- Higher nut intake, as part of a healthy diet, was associated with lower impairment in mobility and agility, and lower risk of falling and sarcopenia, which is characterised by loss of muscle mass and strength. However, studies focusing on the muscle function of older adults is still limited and more studies are needed to confirm this relationship.
- Positive associations between nut consumption and older adults’ cognitive function was consistently reported by observational studies, including our latest study. Almost all clinical studies did not see the benefits of nuts on cognition, though this could be influenced by the healthy older adults that participated in these studies and the short intervention periods of the studies.
Although nut research in the older adult population is limited, available evidence suggests that nuts may protect against age-related health conditions. Our future research will investigate the relationship between nut intake and various aspects of older adults’ health, as well as identify the optimal dose and practical ways to incorporate nuts into older adults diet.
Dr Sze-Yen Tan is a Senior Lecturer and the Deputy Course Director of Bachelor of Nutrition Science at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences (SENS). He is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and he is passionate in finding effective dietary strategies that promote healthy body weight and optimal metabolic health.