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According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, eating a daily handful of nuts may just reduce your risk of death by 20%.
Researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health examined 30 years of data from over 118,000 people. They found that people who ate a handful of nuts every day were 20% less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period compared to those who didn't eat nuts.
In addition, researchers found:
- Heart disease deaths were reduced by 29%
- Cancer deaths were reduced by 11%
Because nuts are high in fat and calories many people try to avoid them. But the researchers found that the nut eaters were more slender than those who abstained. The results are consistent with a 2009 Harvard study finding higher nut consumption was associated with a significantly lower risk of weight gain and obesity.
The researchers found those eating nuts were also more likely to:
- be non-smokers
- take multivitamins
- eat more fruits and vegetables
- drink more alcohol
The report was supported by a grant from the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
The investigators used data from food questionnaires collected in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals' Follow-up Study from 1986 to 2010. Participants in the studies were asked how often they ate a one ounce serving of nuts.
Researchers determined that the protective effects were similar for both peanuts – which are really legumes – and tree nuts.
And more is better when it comes to eating nuts. More nuts equaled more protection against death. Here's how the numbers worked out for those who ate nuts
- Less than once a week = 7% reduced mortality
- Once a week = 11% reduction
- Two to four times per week = 13% reduction
- Five to six times per week = 15% reduction
- Seven or more times a week = 20% percent reduction in death rate.
Nuts Support Heart Health
An earlier study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found eating more nuts is associated with improved blood lipid levels. Researchers from Loma Linda University in California gathered data from 25 nut studies conducted in seven countries. They concluded that nuts have the potential to lower coronary heart disease risk.
Nuts support heart health because they are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. In addition they provide high quality protein, fiber and vitamin E which may help stop the development of plaque in the arteries.
While the most recent Harvard study did not specify which nuts were most beneficial, other studies have found benefits in all types of nuts. However, an analysis of different types of nuts at the University of Scranton found walnuts are number one in antioxidants. The study analyzed nine different types of nuts: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, and pecans.
Walnuts have been associated with better cognitive function, as well as anti-inflammatory effects that are beneficial in relieving asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis. In addition, they contain an antioxidant that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties.
A handful of walnuts has also been shown to help relieve the effects of stress. In a Penn State University study, healthy adults following a diet that included walnuts and walnut oil had lower blood pressure and stress responses when subjected to stress. It takes only 7-9 walnuts a day to get the stress benefits.
View additional walnut health benefit research on GreenMedInfo.com.
Nuts Help Control Type 2 Diabetes
Research from the University of Toronto found consuming two ounces of nuts daily as a replacement for carbohydrates proved effective at glycemic and serum lipid control for people with Type 2 diabetes.
The study, published online by the journal Diabetes Care, reported that mixed, unsalted, raw, or dry-roasted nuts may be used as part of a strategy to improve diabetes control without weight gain.
Researchers divided diabetic patients into three groups. One group was given muffins; one was provided with a mixture of nuts including raw almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, cashews, and macadamias; and one group was given a mixture of both muffins and nuts.
The patients who received only nuts saw the greatest improvement in blood glucose control. They also experienced a reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (known as LDL, or "bad cholesterol").
Subjects eating the muffin, or muffin plus nuts, experienced no significant improvement in glycemic control. But those receiving the muffin-nut combination did significantly lower their serum LDL levels.
The researchers suggested that nuts can help Type 2 diabetics reduce their carbohydrate intake.
Other studies have shown that nuts can also help:
- Prevent gallstones and diverticulitis
- Improve sleep by boosting melatonin
- Protect bone health
- Lower risk of colon cancer
- Lower risk of pancreatic cancer
Just one caution. Nuts can be difficult to digest because they contain enzyme inhibitors. Sally Fallon Morell suggests soaking or partially sprouting nuts before eating them.
For more information on how to prepare nuts, read her book Nourishing Traditions.