A new study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine has found nut consumption to be linked to decreased all-cause mortality.
In the study, researchers at Harvard Medical School looked at 76,464 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study (which includes over 121,700 female nurses in 7 states, begun in 1976). They also looked at 42,498 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (comprised of 51,529 men in 50 states, begun in 1986). The eating habits of men and women were investigated using self-reported food questionnaires. The women were followed for 30 years, and the men were followed for 24 years.
The researchers found that there were 16,200 deaths among the female study group, and 11, 229 deaths among the male study group. People who ate nuts more frequently had a 20% lower all-cause death rate, than people who refrained from eating nuts. More specifically, nut-eaters were less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. The consumption of peanuts versus other types of nuts did not seem to make a difference in the reduced death rate.
Since nuts are high in fat, people sometimes have concerns that nut consumption can lead to weight gain. But the Harvard researchers found no evidence to bear this out. Instead, their study showed nut consumption to be associated with less weight gain, a finding that has been corroborated by other studies.
The researchers propose that the types of fats and nutrients contained in nuts may explain their health benefits. Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamins such as folate, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids, and and phytosterols. Flavonoids, in particular, have antioxidant and antiinflamatory properties that could be helpful in promoting heart health and protecting against cancer.
Limitations of this study include recall bias, which is the propensity for some people to inaccurately report past events due to difficulty remembering them. Recall bias is an inherent problem in most studies that rely on self-reported food questionnaires. However, this study’s large size and long follow-up period help to decrease inaccuracies that could arise from recall bias.
Past studies have linked nut consumption with improved heart health, blood cholesterol, blood sugar control, and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer and other gastrointestinal diseases, as well as reduced death from inflammatory disorders. Since 2003, the FDA has recommended that eating 1.5 oz of nuts per day, in conjunction with a lowfat diet, can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Nuts have the added advantage of promoting feelings of satiety, which helps curb hunger and aids in weight control. So the next time you need a snack, consider reaching for almonds or walnuts rather than a bag of Ruffles. Just make sure you stick to a handful of nuts, and go for the unsalted kind. And for Pete’s sake, stay away from chocolate-coated versions! Over time, you might start to prefer pure, natural nuts, and your heart will thank you.
Almonds: By Koyaanis Qatsi at en.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by Ericd at en.wikipedia. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Walnuts: By Silvio Tanaka (originally posted to Flickr as Árvoros somos Nozes) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Go Nuts! Consumption of Nuts Linked to Mortality Benefit (forbes.com)
- Nut consumption reduces risk of death (news.harvard.edu)
- Large study links nut consumption to reduced death rate (esciencenews.com)
- Peanut Consumption Leads To Decreased Mortality Is A Lot Of Wishful Thinking (forbes.com)