FROM athlete recovery to weight loss and even longer life- nuts just keep on ticking health boxes.
Attendees at the recent 17th Australian Almond Conference at Albert Park, Victoria, could have been forgiven for thinking nuts are the superest of super foods.
The morning of the second full day of information sessions held a distinct health focus with dieticians and health analysts reporting heartening messages for growers and processors in the room.
Accredited sports dietician Simone Austin gave the thumbs-up to almonds as an important part of her work with elite sports teams.
"I think there is as huge opportunity to tap into using nuts as recovery," she said.
She said athletes considering what foods to eat after exercise would do well to munch on some almonds.
"Protein foods are a little bit limited and again that's where almonds are fantastic because they are portable, they don't have to be refrigerated, they can sit in the bottom of the training bag for a couple of weeks and they are still going to be okay," Ms Austin said.
She said athletes often look to consume electrolytes after an intense session and while avocado and Vegemite on toast has become popular, a handful of almonds could provide them as well.
The portability of almonds is one of the major advantages of almonds, according to Ms Austin, particularly for the likes of cyclists.
"Those people who are cycling usually have a good disposable income. They aren't going to worry about buying, they can easily afford to buy nuts," she said.
"I really think we can use athletes as ambassadors, but use family time to make sure that we are having nuts as part of the recovery."
Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos of Latrobe University spoke on the Mediterranean diet in the prevention and management of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
She said the current health of Australians is not something to be proud of with obesity costing the country a lot of money and causing illness.
"We can't just change knowledge and expect that there will be change immediately. We have to look at a multi-sectoral approach. Environment is very important," Professor Itsiopoulos said.
Despite the myriad of healthy eating campaigns in recent years such as "Go for 2 & 5", her statistics showed Australians are in fact eating 30 per cent less fruits and vegetables than they did 15 years ago.
On top of this, 25pc of Australians eat no vegetables on a single day and only 6.8pc eat the recommended five serves of vegetables per day.
"We haven't really responded positively to all these health campaigns," she said.
She said about 35pc of the energy eaten is discretionary with snacks and sugary beverages not contributing any nutritional value.
She said the Mediterranean diet included regular amounts of nuts and other healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, which consumers need more education about.
"What we saw on the market, and this happened a few decades ago, was extra light olive oil, so that's pure olive oil, clear, with 10pc extra virgin olive oil added, but that doesn't mean the nutritional value is there in terms of the full range of polyphenols that we see in extra virgin olive oil," she said.
"So yes there is a difference, so use extra virgin olive oil whenever possible."
She said generally nuts are a mix of different fatty acids and the proportions change so they all contribute to health in varying ways.
University of South Australia Associate Professor Alison Coates addressed the topic of the relationships between nut consumption and vascular and cognitive function.
She delivered information on a study where participants were asked to eat walnuts for four weeks.
"Once they had the walnut diet compared to the control diet, the same person, we can see there was an improvement," she said.
"This means their blood vessels are able to respond more effectively."
The "healthy handful" slogan has been the catchcry in recent years from the combined nut industry promotional brand, Nuts for Life.
According to the group, just 30g of nuts a day, which is around a handful, can help a person meet his or her daily nutrient needs and maintain health.
"In fact, science shows eating a handful of nuts five or more times a week can lower your risk of heart disease by 30-50pc, reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by around 25pc and assist in managing your weight," the Nuts for Life website said.
"Recently a daily 30g handful has also been found to improve longevity.
"But despite the benefits, just 2pc of Australians eat a handful of nuts a day.
"For those wanting to lower cholesterol research shows around 67g of nuts are needed each day or two handfuls."
Nuts for Life program manager and dietician Lisa Yates gave an update on the program, pointing out the marketing potential of the benefits.
"Depending on which target audience your product is being marketed to, there might be a nutrient there that might just be the right thing that would interest them," she said.
"It's great to see there are so many nutrient content claims that you could run with.
"The nutrient composition of nuts is so very similar that you assume that any type of nut would actually help with heart disease and diabetes and weight management."