Nuts, popcorn may lower, not raise diverticular risk

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  2/6/2009 9:13:51 PM

News You Can Use Distributed 02/06/09

Many people with diverticular disease pass up nuts and popcorn in fear that eating these will aggravate the condition and lead to complications. LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says, however, such fears may be unfounded.

A recent study reported in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found no link between eating nuts, popcorn and corn and increased risk of diverticular disease or its complications. In fact, eating these foods appeared to have a protective effect. Men who ate nuts at least twice a week had a 20 percent lower risk of diverticulitis than men who ate nuts less than once a month. Men who ate popcorn at least twice a week had a 28 percent lower risk.

The researchers recommended that the advice to avoid eating these foods by people with diverticular disease be reconsidered. Many doctors recommend that patients with diverticular disease eat a high-fiber diet. High-fiber foods include nuts, corn and popcorn.

The current recommendation for fiber intake is 25 grams per day for women younger than 50 and 21 grams per day for women older than 50. The recommendation for men is 38 grams per day for men younger than 50 and 30 grams per day for men older than 50.

Louisiana pecans are high in fiber and contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. Pecans contain no cholesterol and are naturally sodium-free.

In addition, pecans are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered heart-healthy fats. Nearly 60 percent of the fats in pecans are monounsaturated, another 30 percent are polyunsaturated with very little saturated fat and no trans fat.

The dietary guidelines recommend Americans restrict fat intake to between 20 and 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from heart-healthy sources like fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Pecans are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid meat and beans group.

Pecans also contain plant sterols, which are important parts of plant cell membranes. Research has shown that including plant sterols in the diet may lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking absorption of cholesterol in the intestine. Sterols are present naturally in small quantities in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, vegetable oils and are added to some medications and food products, such as spreads and salad dressings, to help lower blood cholesterol.

In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the following qualified health claim for nuts: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

A 1½-ounce serving of nuts is about one-third of a cup, or a small handful, Reames explains.

“Although nuts are high in fat and energy, most of the evidence from research studies suggests that they do not lead to weight gain,” Reames says, adding, “A review of pecan and other nut research, suggests that nuts may aid in weight loss and maintenance by increasing metabolic rates and enhancing satiety.”

For related nutrition and food safety topics, go to the LSU AgCenter home page at www.lsuagcenter.com and click on the Food and Health link. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Contact: Beth Reames, at (225) 578-3929 or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Mark Claesgens, at (225) 578-2939 or mclaesgens@agcenter.lsu.edu 

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