We may have gotten the old saying, “ An apple a day…” all wrong. Perhaps it’s “A handful of nuts a day keeps the doctor away.” A recent study from Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who regularly consumed nuts had a lower risk of death.
It may sound nutty but the study confirms the results of similar smaller studies. Nuts are known to be a nutrient rich food, high in unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. The researchers examined two large cohort studies of nurses and health professionals to further explore if regular consumption of nuts can actually be beneficial to overall health. The large epidemiological study followed more than 115,000 participants over 30 years. Participants completed surveys every two to fours years to track nut consumption and other lifestyle habits. Death certificates were used to determine causes of death.
The results revealed that the nuttiest participants, those who ate the most nuts seven or more times per week, had a 20% lower risk of dying than those who did not eat any nuts at all! When they looked at specific causes of death the results held up and frequent nut eaters were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease or cancer.
Most interestingly, the study found that nut eaters were more likely to be health nuts. Participants who ate nuts frequently were more likely to be leaner, to eat more fruits and vegetables, to take a multivitamin, to exercise more, and to smoke less. So is it the nuts themselves or that people who like nuts have something in common that keeps them healthy? The study used sophisticated statistical analyses to eliminate other variables. However the study was observational, looking at participants own self-selected behaviors over time. An ideal study is a randomized control trial which would directly examine the effects of nuts consumption on health outcomes. Of note, in this study nut consumption was “dose-dependent” or the more servings of nuts participants consumed in a week the more health benefits they reaped, suggesting a true positive health benefit.
Is a daily handful of nuts the answer to a longer life? Probably not. But adding regular servings of nuts to a healthy lifestyle is a very good idea. The study’s results also demonstrate that diet certainly has an effect on general health. So this holiday season try an almond milk latte, reach for the mixed nuts for a healthy snack or sprinkle some nuts on a winter salad.