Good things do come in small packages, according to the latest study looking at how a specific plant-based food – in this case, nuts – may affect how long we live.
The new research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that people who ate nuts at least five times per week had an 11 percent lower risk of dying from cancer than the nut avoiders. And those who included at least 1 ounce of nuts daily (a small handful) had the lowest rate of mortality from all causes, 20 percent less than those who ate none.
One point to note about this finding is that it’s a correlation, meaning it links eating nuts to mortality, it doesn’t prove cause-and-effect. There are numerous factors that play a role in living longer, and the researchers attempted to statistically rule these other factors out, including their weight, physical activity, high cholesterol, alcohol intake and other aspects of their diet.
And people who eat nuts more are often more likely to have healthier habits and it’s possible that came into play.
Researchers analyzed 30 years of food questionnaires from about 76,000 women in the Nurses Health Study (NHS) and 42,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). They compared participants’ nut consumption (never to at least seven times per week) to causes of death.
This study adds to growing evidence that a eating a diet with a variety of plant foods can not only help lower risk for cancer and other chronic diseases, it may also lead to a longer life.
Nuts contain protein, fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fat and pack a lot of calories – 160 to 200 – in just one ounce so there has been concern that they may contribute to weight gain, but in this study, the nut eaters were actually leaner. It is possible that nuts provide more satiety, meaning they keep you fuller longer, than highly processed foods with added fats and sugars with little nutritional value.
All kinds of tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, e.g.) and peanuts were included in the analysis. One ounce of nuts is about 23 almonds, 18 cashews, 14 walnut halves, 49 pistachios and 19 pecan halves. Nuts make great on-the-go snacks and they can add crunch and flavor to salads, stir-fries or your morning bowl of oatmeal.
But just adding nuts to your diet alone may not provide the benefit found in this study. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, and choosing whole grains and legumes will ensure that you are giving your body a mix of nutrients and other healthful compounds. If you want to add nuts to your plate, substitute them for high calorie foods like chips, candy and other highly processed snack foods.
The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation.
Try these AICR recipes to add a few nuts to your diet: