25 November 2013

Nut consumption reduces risk of death

The old adage, “you are what you eat,” may not hold true for people who eat nuts, as a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that regularly eating walnuts or cashews can cut a person’s risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and other causes.

“There’s a general perception that if you eat more nuts you’re going to get fat. Our results show the opposite,” study author Dr. Ying Bao of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told the Associated Press.

In the study, researchers followed nearly 120,000 Americans from all 50 states who had enrolled in either the Nurses’ Health Study or the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The study team discovered that those who ate a daily, one-ounce serving of almonds, cashews or other tree nuts had a 20 percent lower mortality rate over the three-decade span of the study, compared with those who did not eat nuts on a daily basis.

More specifically, nut-eating participants’ risk of dying from heart disease was 29 percent lower and their risk of dying of cancer was 11 percent lower than those who didn’t eat nuts regularly.

The study team said they didn’t know why nuts appeared to convey health benefits. They speculated that unsaturated fatty acids, minerals and other healthy nutrients reduce cholesterol, inflammation and other health problems.

Ralph Sacco, a former president of the American Heart Association, told the AP that nuts are a healthy snack that could be replacing something much less healthy in a person’s diet.

“Sometimes when you eat nuts you eat less of something else like potato chips,” he speculated.

The researchers noted that study participants who often ate nuts tended to be healthier, often weighed less, exercised more and were less likely to smoke. Even after considering these and other lifestyle factors, researchers were still able to find a strong benefit from regular nut consumption.

“I’m very confident,” Bao said about the study’s results. “We did so many analyses, very sophisticated ones” to eliminate confounding factors.

The study team did perform separate analyses on smokers and non-smokers, intense and light exercisers, and those with and without diabetes, yet still saw a consistent benefit from eating nuts daily.

Penny Kris-Etherton, a Pennsylvania State University nutrition expert, reviewed previous studies on nuts at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Dallas this week.

“We’re seeing benefits of nut consumption on cardiovascular disease as well as body weight and diabetes,” Kris-Etherton told the AP. “We don’t know exactly what it is” about nuts that conveys a benefit, she added. “I tell people to eat mixed nuts.”

Coming from a reputable Harvard study group, the new study builds on another study published earlier this year that found a Mediterranean-style diet, complete with nuts, lowers the odds of heart-related problems, particularly strokes, in older individual with a higher level of risk.

While the newer study didn’t focus on how the nuts were prepared, the AHA recommends four servings of unsalted, oil-free nuts per week. It also warns against eating too many nuts because of their relatively high calorie count.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Now read: Google’s next big challenge: death.


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