Half a Handful of Nuts Daily to Lower Mortality?
Nuts – they’re crunchy, salty, and addictive, and more than a little addictive. When you’re eating them, portion control is a must. Fortunately, you don’t have to eat lots of nuts to enjoy their health benefits. A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology showed that munching on only 10 grams of nuts or more daily is linked with a lower risk of death from a variety of causes. Ten grams? That’s only about half a handful!
This study, part of a larger study, followed more than 120,000 middle-aged Dutch men and women from 1986 to the present. Researchers used questionnaires to gauge the participants’ nut consumption habits, how frequently they ate them, the type of nuts they ate, the quantity they consumed and compared it to their mortality rates over time.
Previous research has already shown diets that include nuts are a heart-healthy snack, linked with a lower risk for heart disease, but, according to this study, nuts could also protect against other health problems, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, degenerative nervous system disease, and lung disease. That covers a lot of territory! In this study, eating as little as 10 grams of nuts daily was linked with 23% lower mortality. Interestingly, the study failed to show an association between peanut butter consumption and lower mortality.
This study is consistent with other research showing nuts are a healthy and satisfying snack, a more nutritious alternative to carby snack foods like potato chips, pretzels and popcorn that have little nutritional value. In contrast to high carb crunchies, nuts are rich in healthy fats and a good source of fiber.
Less well recognized is the fact that nuts are an impressive source of polyphenols that help control inflammation. In fact, walnuts top the list of polyphenol-rich nuts by having almost twice the polyphenols of other common nuts. Plus, you only need to munch about 7 walnuts to get the benefits. In addition to being rich in polyphenols, walnuts have the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats with anti-inflammatory benefits. Pecans are another nut that ranks well on the antioxidant scale. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, pecans have the highest total antioxidant content of any nut.
Rather than focus on eating one kind of nut, enjoy a mixture. Each nut has its own unique health benefits that set it apart from the rest. Almonds are known for their substantial vitamin E and protein content while Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of a trace mineral called selenium. Macadamia nuts are abundant in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, the same type of fat that makes avocados and olive oil so healthy. Just don’t feed them to your pets! Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs.
Pistachios stand out because they’re lower in calories than other nuts – 47 of them will only set you back 160 calories. They’re also rich in an amino acid arginine that improves blood vessel function. No wonder pistachios are touted as heart healthy. Peanuts contain resveratrol, a potent antioxidant also found in red wine.
Power Up Your Diet with Nuts
A sprinkle of nuts on a salad makes it more filling and satisfying. Start the morning with chopped almonds and pecans sprinkled on hot cereal or stirred into Greek yogurt. Package nuts into single-serving packets and carry them with you. Add slivered almonds to vegetables and other culinary creations that could use more crunch. In other words, go nuts!
What about the Calorie Density?
Yes, nuts are high in calories. Still, research shows nut eaters are less likely to be overweight than non-nut nibblers. The reason? Not all of the fats in nuts are absorbed. One study showed about 20% of the calories in nuts never make it out of the digestive tract and are excreted unabsorbed. The same goes for almonds. Plus, nuts are more filling and satisfying than carby snacks like chips, so they help with appetite control. Still, keeping your hand out of the nut can is challenging if it’s in plain view. Set aside a serving or two, put the can away, and don’t go back for seconds.
Raw or Roasted?
Roasting nuts may destroy some of the healthy fats in nuts, but raw nuts have their drawbacks too. Raw nuts contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid that blocks the absorption of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. You can greatly reduce the amount of phytic acid in the nuts you eat by soaking them for 12 hours in a salt water solution and drying them in an oven or dehydrator before eating them. Unless you eat a lot of nuts, you probably don’t need to take this extra step. Another benefit of soaking is it makes nuts easier to digest.
One argument for roasting nuts is it kills bacteria that could theoretically lead to food poisoning. Nuts, especially peanuts, can also be a source of fungal toxins, called mycotoxins, which are linked with liver cancer. Roasting destroys some, but not all, of these unhealthy compounds. The best way to reduce your exposure to mycotoxins is to buy nuts in packaged from the U.S.A. and store them in a cool, dry place. Discard any that look moldy or discolored. Other than these issues, there’s no overwhelming evidence that raw nuts are healthier than roasted nuts or vice versa, stick with what you enjoy most. Better yet, eat some of both.
The Bottom Line
Research has repeatedly shown that nuts have health benefits, and when you eat them in place of other crunchy snacks, you’re doing something healthy for your body. Just don’t grab them by the handful – put aside no more than an ounce or two and munch on them slowly. You’ll enjoy them more that way.
Live Science. “Health Nut: Walnuts Offer Huge Amount of Antioxidants”
United States Department of Agriculture.
News-Medical. “Fat in pistachios may not be readily absorbed by the body”