People who like nuts now have research on their side showing the heart-healthy benefits of eating them regularly. Today there are even more compelling reasons to justify the habit or perhaps persuade you to make nuts your go-to daily snack.
New data from an international team of researchers from Imperial College London, UK and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology show that a handful of nuts daily may significantly cut the risk of developing major diseases. The findings reveal that by eating just 20 grams of nuts a day – that’s about a handful – people were able to:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease by nearly 30%
- Cut the risk of cancer by 15%
- Lower the risk of dying prematurely by 22%
- Slash the risk of death from respiratory diseases by 52%
- Cut the risk of diabetes by almost 40%
How do nuts provide health benefits?
One of the lead researchers says there are good reasons why nuts cause these benefits. Nuts are rich in protein, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and polyunsaturated fats – the good fats. These nutrients are helpful in lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Nuts can decrease insulin resistance, which may improve or prevent diabetes. They also have lots of antioxidants, which can prevent cancer.
Nuts impact health globally
The researchers from the U.K. and Norway came up with the findings by reviewing 29 related research studies from around the world looking at the relationship between eating nuts and the risk of a wide range of diseases. Several research studies focus on the effect of nuts on major illnesses like heart disease and cancer. In this review researchers also included studies of the effect of nuts on other conditions such as diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and infectious diseases.
Almost a million people (819,000) participated in the studies. Among them were 18,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, 12,000 cases of coronary heart disease, 18,000 cases of cancer, 9,000 cases of stroke, and more than 85,000 people who died from a variety of causes.
The studies did not include Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia – probably because there’s little research on the effect of nuts on health in those regions. The results were similar for men and women and in all the other geographical areas studied – the Americas, Europe, South East Asia and Australia.
Take home message
All nuts showed the beneficial effects – tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios as well as legumes like peanuts and brazil nuts. Only tree nuts, however, were linked to a reduced risk of cancer.
Researchers say that although nuts are high in fat, they also have tons of protein and fiber, which cause a feeling of fullness. This limits overeating and can help lower the risk of overweight and obesity. The study did not find that peanut butter has the same benefits as peanuts, possibly because of added salt and sugar.
Adding nuts to your daily diet is apparently backed by research but, as in all types of food, moderation appears to be key. Remember that nuts contain a lot of fat, and the data shows no added health benefit from eating more than a handful a day!
Toju Chike-Obi, MD