Eating nuts may be good for health

nutsPeople who eat nuts at least once a week may live longer than those who don’t, according to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Data from nearly 120,000 people who were followed for about 30 years found that those who ate nuts once a week were 11 percent less likely to die during that time period compared to people who didn’t eat nuts.

People who ate nuts seven or more times a week had a 20 percent lower risk of dying during the follow-up period than people who didn’t eat nuts.

About the study

Researchers gathered information from two large, long-term studies: the Nurses’ Health Study (1980 to 2010) and the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study (1986 to 2010). The first included only women; the second, only men.

People in the two studies filled out food-frequency questionnaires every two to four years. One item on the questionnaire asked how often a person had eaten a 1-ounce serving of nuts in the previous year. A separate item asked about consumption of peanuts, which are not true nuts but legumes.

For this analysis, researchers excluded people with a history of cancer, heart disease or stroke, leaving a total study population of 118,962 people—27,429 of whom died over the approximately 30 years of follow-up.

The authors then compared deaths with the people’s reported consumption of nuts—which the authors noted remained consistent through the years.

The analysis found that the mortality risk from any cause dropped as the frequency of nut consumption increased. In other words, the more often a person ate nuts, the less likely he or she was to die during the study. Results were similar for true nuts and for peanuts.

Nut consumption also was linked to a significantly lower risk for death from cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease.

Contrary to popular belief, however, eating nuts was not associated with weight gain. In fact, the nut eaters were generally thinner than those who did not eat nuts. (Nut eaters also tended to exercise more and eat more fruits and vegetables than non-nut eaters.)

The study was co-funded by the National Institutes of Health and the International Tree Nut Council, a group representing the nut industry.

The take-home message
The study did not prove that eating nuts leads to a longer life. It only found an association between the two.

It also was based on two studies that relied on people’s memories about food consumption over several years, memories which may not be accurate.

However, it did reinforce previous studies’ findings that nut consumption has healthy effects.

Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals known to benefit health. Previous studies have shown a relationship between eating nuts and a lowered risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, according to background information in the study.

“Our data are consistent with a wealth of existing observational and clinical-trial data in supporting the health benefits of nut consumption for many chronic diseases,” the authors of the current study wrote.


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