By Shruthi Rajashekara;
Need another reason to roast chestnuts this winter?
Look no further than a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine which suggests people who eat nuts have a lower risk of death compared to people who never eat them.
Researchers at Harvard and Indiana University looked at data gathered through the mammoth, decades-long Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study - health information for nearly 120,000 men and women in all. They looked at the risk of death in these subjects from several common health problems, and they compared this risk against their consumption of nuts.
They found that people who ate an average of one serving of nuts per day had a 20 percent lower risk of death from several common health problems compared to those who never ate nuts. The more nuts they ate, the greater the effect.
The researchers noted that the study was funded in part by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit industry group, but they stated the organization had no role or influence over any aspect of the study.
Lead study author Dr. Ying Bao, an internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., says the findings reinforce what many have long suspected about the benefits of nut consumption.
"Nuts are a nutrient dense food," she said. "Previous studies show benefits for different chronic diseases - benefits for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, even colon cancer. And, of course, heart disease."
Importantly, those who consumed nuts were also those who tended to be less obese, less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise, and more likely to eat fruits and vegetables - all healthy factors that could contribute to longer life in and of themselves. However, even after taking all of these factors into account - as well as others like age, race and family history - the researchers still found that those who ate nuts came out on top when it came to early death due to cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.
The study is the largest yet to show such benefits.
"There are very few studies that show the benefit of nuts on total mortality," Bao said. "We had a great opportunity to look at this association, which is understudied, in a large study sample."
Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, who is not affiliated with the study, said that though the study cannot prove conclusively that eating more nuts will keep you alive longer, the findings are healthy food for thought.
"One potentially important reason why nuts reduce disease risk and death is what they add to the diet, another is what they remove from the diet," Katz said. "People who eat more nuts are likely eating them instead of other foods, perhaps snack foods apt to be far less nutritious."
This research adds to the increasing body of research that show that nuts have several health benefits. And while no food can keep you alive forever, nutritionists have long known that nuts are full of nutrients. So if you can afford them, you might consider adding a handful of nuts per day to your diet.
However, it's important to remember that eating nuts is not a substitute for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercising, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake to 1 or 2 glasses per day.