Can My Child with Diabetes Eat Nuts?

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND
Reaching for nuts - Can My Child with Diabetes Child Eat Nuts?

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Nuts are a terrific snack or addition to a meal for children and adults with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Nuts give us magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, protein, nourishing fats and more!

Controlling Blood Glucose

Nuts' combination of protein and fat is especially helpful when trying to manage blood sugar, says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The key is to watch portion size as they are calorie-dense." By combining nuts with a high-carbohydrate food such as cereal, bread or fruit, you can expect lower blood glucose readings after eating than if you or your child eat the high-carb food alone. As part of a research study, individuals with Type 2 diabetes had lower blood glucose after eating an ounce of mixed nuts with white bread, as opposed to eating the bread alone. A similar study among healthy adults showed that eating pistachios with rice or pasta also limited the rise in blood glucose readings after eating.

Love nuts for their magnesium content, too. Among its many roles, this mineral may affect the release and activity of insulin, the hormone that helps control blood glucose levels. Interestingly, many people with Type 2 diabetes have low blood levels of magnesium. And, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, magnesium is one of the underconsumed nutrients. Other good sources of magnesium are whole grains, beans and spinach.

Nutrient Powerhouse

There are so many ways to please the taste buds and nourish the body with nuts. Along with their distinct tastes, nuts each have a unique nutrient profile. And when you pair them with other nutrient-dense foods, you're getting a super dose of good-for-you nutrition. Toss chopped pistachios and diced peaches into yogurt. Offer kids half a peanut butter and banana sandwich made with whole-grain bread. Mix walnuts with dried tart cherries for a simple trail mix, or spread almond butter on sliced apples. Your kids will have fun learning the names and identifying the tastes of a variety of nuts. Put out a small bowl with pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and more. Enjoy!

Manage Weight

Even though nuts are high in fat, they can be an important part of a weight management program. Some studies suggest that frequent nut eaters are leaner than those who eat nuts infrequently. Why? One theory is that nuts are satisfying and suppress hunger, leading to less food intake overall. Researchers in a Texas middle school found this same phenomenon among children. When they replaced the students' usual snack with a daily snack of a 1-ounce serving of peanuts or ¾-ounce portion of peanut butter with vegetables for dipping, the kids' diets improved and they lost weight. Nuts in their shell may offer another advantage: Cracking the shell makes the snack last longer, presumably increasing satisfaction and decreasing overeating.

Don't assume that because a little is good, a lot is better. The middle school students were given a single serving of nuts or nut butter. Too much likely can lead to weight gain. Nuts contain about 160 to 200 calories per ounce, so be mindful of portion sizes. One ounce of nuts is about 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 48 pistachios or 14 walnut halves. Two tablespoons of nut butter is equivalent to one ounce. Have your kids stick to about 1 to 1½ ounces per day.

There is one caveat: For children under the age of 4, nuts may be a choking hazard unless finely chopped.

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