a woman holding a large handful of pistachio nuts, nuts and health

Nuts are not the dietary demons doctors once thought. There was a time when we were warned to stay away from nuts because they are high in both fat and calories. But there is new evidence on nuts and health.

The Latest Word on Nuts and Health:

A review of 20 studies has just concluded that people who eat more nuts are less likely to have heart disease, strokes or cancer. They are also less prone to premature death from lung disease, infections and diabetes. Those who ate about an ounce of nuts daily were 29 percent less likely to have coronary heart disease. They were also 21 percent less likely to have any type of cardiovascular complications.

None of these studies were randomized controlled trials. Experiments have shown, though, that nut consumption lowers triglycerides and cholesterol in the bloodstream. In this analysis. peanuts are associated with similar benefits as tree nuts. The study does not demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between nuts and health.

BMC Medicine, Dec. 5, 2016

Previous Research on the Health Consequences of Eating Nuts:

For years dietary dogma warned against lots of delicious foods. People were supposed to eat brown rice and broccoli and avoid steak, chocolate and nuts. But the nutrition nay-sayers might consider eating crow.

The Mediterranean Diet and Nuts:

While most of the attention to the PREDIMED study of the Mediterranean diet focused on olive oil, one-third of the participants were eating nuts. They did as well as those getting extra olive oil (New England Journal of Medicine, April 4, 2013). The nuts these volunteers ate were hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts.

Physicians and Nurses in Studies:

Walter Willett, MD, PhD, is chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Willett is a fan of nuts. Many years ago, he and his colleagues published a major study (JAMA, Nov. 27, 2002) showing that women who eat 5 ounces or so of nuts a week lower their risk of type 2 diabetes by 27 percent.

That wasn’t the first time nuts were shown to be healthful. Another study showed that a diet rich in almonds lowers cholesterol without raising blood sugar in people with diabetes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov. 2002).

Which Nuts Will You Eat?

Other studies have demonstrated a 30 to 50 percent drop in heart disease among people who eat 5 ounces of nuts a week. Almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios and peanuts are all rich in good monounsaturated fats, but walnuts, which contain polyunsaturated fats, may be especially beneficial. The omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts are related to those found in fish oil.

Some time ago, we answered this question about selecting nuts:

Q. Could you talk about the relative benefits of various nuts? We know almonds and walnuts can lower cholesterol. Do pecans, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts or hazelnuts offer anything besides calories?

A. Nearly all nuts have beneficial fatty acids, particularly monounsaturated fatty acids like those found in olive oil. In addition, walnuts contain some omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil.

People who eat five ounces of nuts weekly are less susceptible to heart disease and type-2 diabetes. People who consume Brazil nuts get selenium, which can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.

Be careful with Brazil nuts, however. They are so rich in this mineral that eating more than three or four a day on a regular basis could result in selenium toxicity (hair loss, rash, nasty nails and nerve damage).

Walnuts and Blood Fats:

Research indicates that these fats can improve the cholesterol profile. A Japanese study years ago showed that women eating walnuts lower their LDL cholesterol levels (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July, 2002). Another study found that people consuming walnuts have better ratios of HDL to total cholesterol (Diabetes Care, Nov., 2004). There is a consistent pattern of lower cholesterol for people who eat walnuts (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July, 2009).

The omega-3 fats in walnuts also appear to have anti-inflammatory properties. (Other nuts also seem to fight inflammation.) Inflammation is gaining prominence as an important factor in heart disease as well as possibly contributing to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Nuts and the Heart:

Omega-3 fats may also stabilize heart rhythms. The Physicians Health Study has followed 22,000 male doctors for nearly 20 years. Those who rarely ate nuts were about 50 percent more likely to drop dead suddenly of cardiac arrest (Archives of Internal Medicine, June 24, 2002). (That is relative risk.) Presumably, the men consuming nuts at least twice a week were protected from the changes in heart rhythm that are associated with sudden death.

Nuts and Weight Control:

Of course, over-indulging in nuts could lead to weight gain. Walnuts have 185 calories in an ounce. But if you substitute nuts for other foods, especially carbohydrates like bread, bagels, crackers or cookies, you can maintain your waistline, reduce your risk of diabetes and keep your heart healthy. In fact, people who count their calories but include almonds in their diets lower blood pressure better and lose more belly fat compared to dieters who are not consuming nuts (Journal of Nutrition, online, Nov. 2, 2016).

We count many nuts, including almonds and walnuts, among our favorite (healthful) foods. You can learn more about those in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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  1. SYLVIA
    California
    Reply

    I see no mention of avocado seeds possibly classified as a nut being beneficial to our health. I have seen youtube demonstration on how to process this seed but no scientific research to support that this is safe to consume.

  2. Mary
    Reply

    I think reading all the different study”s can make you scared to live your life. We are so busy trying to stay healthy, we forget how to live…My dad who just turned 95 says, do the best you an do, live one day at a tume..All we have is today…

  3. Mary Jane
    NYC
    Reply

    This is why I never pay attention to any instance of “demonizing.” I never stopped eating nuts, and most days I have eggs for breakfast, with butter in the pan and on my biscuits. So far, so good.

  4. WILLIAM FLYNN WALLACE
    Reply

    You did not add a comment section for gabapentin, so I am commenting here.

    My doctor prescribed it for back pain. Years ago I took Corguard and cCatapres for a misdiagnosis of mitral valve prolapse. They just blew my mind apart. I could not teach or think straight. I flushed them.

    Gabapentin did much the same thing. No pain relief but a major cognitive disrupter. Flushed it.

  5. Ellen
    TX
    Reply

    I agree with all the great benefits of eating nuts. However, nuts quickly cause a lysine/arginine imbalance in my system. I supplement with L-Lysine to regulate.

  6. Duke
    Raleigh
    Reply

    Here you go with the loose “relative” to “absolute” differential in studies. See Nuts and the Heart above. 50% sounds great for the value of eating nuts vs. dropping dead of a heart attack. Is that “1” or “2” from the absolute?? (I am a nut eater).

    • Terry Graedon
      Reply

      The 50% reduction is a relative risk. Thanks for pointing out that should be specified.

  7. ron
    Reply

    I have read that nuts should not be roasted so only buy raw nuts.

  8. Kathryn
    Florida
    Reply

    Nuts can be healthy, however, nuts are also high in oxalates which can lead to kidney stones and other nasty effects when we increase how many we eat. I found this out the hard way when I tried to increase adherence to a vegan diet. All the vegan favorites like nuts, beans, spinach, potatoes, whole grains and more are all high oxalate foods. Be careful how much of these you eat. Perhaps all the past research should not be so quickly ignored especially if you have a history of kidney stones or severe, sudden poly-arthritis. Do the research!

  9. Robert
    Ithaca, N.Y.
    Reply

    No mention of cashews – are there any indications of health benefits/drawbacks for these popular nuts?

    • Terry Graedon
      Reply

      In studies, they are usually classified with other tree nuts and not separated out.

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