A Handful of Nuts a Day
If your nut-eating is limited to the occasional snack on an airplane or smear of peanut butter on your toast, you could be missing out on some major health benefits. It’s been known for a while that eating nuts is linked with a reduced risk of major diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But only recently has nuts’ connection with longevity become clear.
New Science on Nuts
A few small studies previously suggested that eating nuts may decrease risk of dying prematurely. Then a large study in the New England Journal of Medicine (November 21, 2013) found that eating nuts seven or more times per week was linked with a 20 percent lower risk of dying, in general, compared with not eating nuts. Even eating nuts just once a week was linked with an 11 percent lower risk of dying. The study also showed that the more frequently people ate nuts, the lower their risk for most major causes of death, including cancer and heart disease.
To conduct the study, researchers periodically surveyed 119,000 women and men over a 30-year period, asking how frequently they ate a 1-ounce serving of nuts, as well as tracking changes in their health and other diet and lifestyle influences. Although this type of study can’t prove cause and effect, the fact that it was a large study with a lengthy follow-up period strengthens its findings. Additionally, this new study is supported by previous clinical studies showing that eating nuts might help lower cholesterol levels, decrease high blood sugar, reduce insulin resistance, and keep blood vessels healthy.
Which Nuts Are Best for Health?
In the study, the researchers counted all tree nuts, as well as peanuts (which are technically legumes), in their tally. When they analyzed results exclusively with tree nuts and exclusively with peanuts, the health and longevity benefits increase for both types of nuts. Health advantages of individual types of tree nuts versus others weren’t assessed in this study, nor has this typically been directly examined in other studies.
Nuts are jam-packed with nutritious components, including healthful unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. These nut phytonutrients have been shown to perform many valuable activities, including working as antioxidants to help fight free-radical damage, as well as helping to prevent inflammation and lowering blood cholesterol.
Compared with other nuts, walnuts are especially high in a plant form of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Walnuts also may be a superior source of phytonutrients, which are highest in the papery brown skin that typically sticks to walnuts. So it’s been speculated that walnuts may be especially healthful among nuts, but this hasn’t been tested in clinical research that pits one nut against another.