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Are Nuts Healthy?

During this time of the year, it’s a regular sight on coffee tables: a beautiful bowl of whole nuts with a shiny nutcracker. How festive! In the past, nuts have been a diet no-no, and I still hear remnants of that old adage every day; “I can’t eat nuts; they are too high in fat!” While it is true that nuts are higher in fat, and consequently, higher in calories per serving, the fat is the healthiest kind of fat. Plus the unassuming little nut packs a wallop of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

If that’s not reason enough to start eating nuts right now, consider this new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that eating nuts was associated with a decrease in death from all causes. The study included almost 120,000 men and women, the largest of its kind, and followed them for 30 years.

Eating a handful of nuts per day was linked with a 20% lower risk of dying from any cause over 30 years, a 29% lower risk of death from heart disease, and an 11% lower risk of death from cancer. People who ate more nuts tended to be slimmer than those who avoided them. Nut-eaters were also less likely to smoke, and more likely to engage in healthy habits, like exercising and eating fruits and vegetables.  And even after these factors were controlled, nuts still seemed to offer their own benefits.

The study also showed the risk of death was decreased by 11% in those who ate nuts once per week, 13% in those who ate nuts two to four times per week, 15% in those who ate nuts five to six days per week, and 20% in those who ate nuts every day.

It is worth noting that the International Tree Nut Council, as well as the US National Institutes of Health sponsored the study. The study asked participants to answer detailed questionnaires on a range of foods every two to four years. Recalling foods in this way is notoriously inaccurate; however, this study does echo previous findings on the health benefits of nuts. Further research will be needed to determine why nuts seem to offer this life-protective benefit, and if any specific nut offers more benefit than another.

This study confirmed the US Food and Drug Administration’s and health care professionals’ advice that eating a handful of nuts daily may reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as add possible protective effects against cancer and other chronic diseases.

So go ahead and get cracking! All types of nuts are great for your health, including peanuts (even though they are not technically a nut; they are a legume!). Be sure to choose unsalted nuts, and nuts that aren’t covered in caramel or chocolate to keep your calorie intake down.

My favorite nuts are cashews and almonds.  What’s yours?