At one time, people avoided nuts because they believed that they were high in fat. However, we now know that nuts contain mostly unsaturated fat, which is believed to help improve heart health. In addition, nuts are high in fiber, which helps to make you feel full and cause you to eat less. They are also a great source of protein, vitamin E, calcium, selenium, folate, and plant sterols.
Researchers from Boston and Greece wanted to investigate the whether eating nuts reduced the risk of significant health conditions. The study, published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating nuts can reduce the risk of both heart disease and diabetes.
The systematic review included 27 mostly observational studies with a total of 501,791 participants. The studies used self-reported food diaries and tracked participants health over a period of time. The study found that consumption of nuts was associated with:
- Decreased risk of fatal and non-fatal ischemic heart disease (heart attacks)
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
However, nuts were not associated with a decreased risk of stroke.
A systematic review is considered a reliable form of research because it combines several smaller studies. The higher the number of participants the more reliable the results may be. However, the systematic review is only as reliable as the studies that were included. In this case, the studies were mostly observational trials. Observational trials can help see possible links but can not determine cause and effect so the results of this review should only be taken as possible links not definitive connections.
If you are concerned about heart health and diabetes, you may want to consider adding nuts to your diet. They should be part of an overall, balanced heart-healthy diet. This includes also eating:
- Foods that are low in fat and cholesterol
- Foods that are a good source of protein, but are low in fat, such as fish, skinless chicken, fat-free dairy products, and tofu
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, such as whole-grain bread and whole-grain pasta
Talk to your doctor about dietary changes that may be helpful for your health situation. Your doctor may also refer you to a dietitian for help with meal planning and nutrition.
Afshin A, Micha R, et al. Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jun 4;100(1):278-288.
Diabetes mellitus type 2 prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 17, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Dietary interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 17, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Healthy eating. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Healthy-Eating_UCM_310436_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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