Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts are enjoying celebrity status in the dietary world. More and more research has found that although they are small, nuts pack a powerful nutrition punch. They are full of satisfying protein and healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. People who have nuts as part of their regular diet also tend to have lower risk of heart disease.
Researchers wanted to know if these benefits translated to longer life. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that those who regularly ate nuts had lower all-cause mortality and lower mortality due to heart disease during the study period.
The study assessed information gathered during the Nurse's Health study and the Health Professionals Follow-up study. These cohort studies followed 173,229 participants since 1976 or 1986. The studies regularly sent questionnaires to participants that asked about health and lifestyle habits as well as any medical information. Mortality was also tracked with all participants.
Compared to those who did not eats nuts, participants who had 2 or more servings per week had:
- Decreased risk of mortality due to heart disease
- Decreased risk of overall mortality
Higher nut consumptions resulted in greater reductions in mortality during the study period. Tree nut consumption was not associated with significant difference in mortality due to stroke, respiratory disease, neurological disease, infection, kidney disease or diabetes.
This study collected data from two large well-respected cohort studies. However, cohort studies are observational studies. These studies simply observe events as they unfold but do not interfere or introduce factors that can affect the outcome. This means the study cannot confirm that nuts decrease mortality but that there is an interesting link. Many other studies have found that nuts are associated with heart healthy benefits and their nutritional composition makes this a reasonable connection.
Some are worried about nuts because they are high in fats and calories, but the fats in nuts are healthy fats and when eaten in proper amounts, can be a good addition to your regular diet. In fact a study discussed in June showed that the addition of nuts to a diet were not associated with weight gain. Read nutritional information on package to learn what proper serving size may be, it can be different based on the type of nut. Munch on them as part of a snack or add some protein to vegetables dishes like a salad. Although they shows promise, remember that nuts are not miracle foods, they are only a part of an overall healthy diet.
Bao Y, et al. Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. N Engl J Med 2013; 369:2001-2011.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
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