The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do People Who Eat Nuts Live Longer?

A study of older Americans show that people who eat nuts live longer. However, peanut butter eaters get no advantage.

Were you ever told not to eat too many nuts because they are so high in calories and fat? Perhaps instead you have heard that nut consumption is associated with longer life. Do people who eat nuts really live longer?

Numerous studies have linked diets rich in nuts to lower risk of cardiovascular disease and many cancers (BMC Medicine, Dec. 5, 2016). About half of the peanuts eaten in the U.S. are in the form of peanut butter, however. Previous studies suggest that peanut better lovers may not fare as well as people who eat nuts (Internationnal Journal of Epidemiology, June 2015).

A Study of People Who Eat Nuts and Peanut Butter:

Researchers wanted to confirm whether peanut butter is as beneficial as eating nuts. They collected data from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Health Study (Nutrients, July 2, 2019). It included more than half a million volunteers between 50 and 71 years of age. The participants filled out food frequency questionnaires.

What the Scientists Found:

During about 15 years of follow-up, 64,464 participants died. Those who ate more nuts were significantly less likely to die of cancer, heart disease, respiratory complications and infections. Peanut butter, on the other hand, was not protective.

This was not an experiment (also called an interventional study). Instead, it was an observational study, connecting people’s usual diet with what happened to them. As such, it does not provide a clear indication of cause and effect. There may be other differences between people who eat nuts and those who eat peanut butter that would help explain why nut lovers seem to live longer. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that you shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying a handful of nuts a few times a week.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Aune D et al, "Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies." BMC Medicine, Dec. 5, 2016. DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0730-3
  • van den Brandt PA & Schouten LJ, "Relationship of tree nut, peanut and peanut butter intake with total and cause-specific mortality: A cohort study and meta-analysis." Internationnal Journal of Epidemiology, June 2015. DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyv039
  • Amba V et al, "Nut and peanut butter consumption and mortality in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study." Nutrients, July 2, 2019. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071508
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I have trouble chewing nuts because I have problems with my jaws (TMJ). So I’ve been eating almond butter, the kind without palm oil, just the finely ground nuts themselves. But if peanut butter has no benefit, does almond butter? I hope so. I used to eat a lot of whole nuts, and my doctor said it was likely one reason why my HDL level of good fats was so high.

Maybe I should just grind walnuts until they are quite fine and eat them that way. Maybe I could do that without getting sore jaws.

I really hope that almond butter is also good for the heart. I love the flavor.

The study couldn’t answer the question, because too few people eat almond butter for it to register in this type of epidemiological study. We suspect that the type of almond butter you describe is just fine. But we’ll need a different study to know for sure.

Is the problem with peanut butter
1) peanuts aren’t really nuts, so they are nutritionally different?
2) somehow grinding them reduces their effectiveness? If that’s the case, what about almond butter?
3) that peanut butter usually has added sugar, bad oils, and salt? Those are ingredients that probably would reduce the benefits. Would plain peanut butter have benefits similar to nuts?

In many other studies, peanuts have benefits similar to true nuts. We don’t know if the lack of benefit from peanut butter has to do with the additives ordinary peanut butter has (until recently, hydrogenated vegetable oil, now palm kernel oil, etc.) or with something different about the diets where peanut butter stars.

As you know “peanuts” are not true nuts. They are legumes and do not have the same beneficial aspects as tree nuts.

What is unclear from this summary is whether the longevity is promoted by those that eat peanuts alone (raw or cooked) vs those that peanut butter. Peanuts are legumes and the writing does not clarify whether the term nut is being used loosely to include whole peanuts or strictly, rejecting all forms of peanuts.

So what about whole peanuts? Jiff peanut butter uses peanuts and less fillers, so are some peanut butters better and more aligned with other whole nuts (walnuts, pecans etc) than other peanut butters?

Interesting study, but it leaves me wondering if natural peanut butter (i.e., peanut butter made of peanuts only, or peanuts and salt only) has protective effects.

Possibly. This study didn’t tell us.

Peanuts are a legume and not a nut, correct? If so, why were they in the study?

On a side note, I’d really enjoy an article with your take on “nut” allergies, and how many people who are allergic to peanuts are also allergic to other nuts. Is it a mold issue that connects peanuts to nuts?

And if my understanding is wrong, I’d be grateful for the correct information.

There is a significant difference between tree nuts and peanuts. Peanuts are legumes and have far more in common with lentils and chick peas than they have with almonds, pecans, or walnuts. However, in American society, peanuts are probably the first choice, as they’re an icon of our culture. I think this is an interesting study. Thanks for sharing.

The peanut butter thing is strange, as I believe there is evidence that peanuts (though they are not technically nuts) do have a beneficial effect. I wonder if the fact that many of the PB eaters were eating sugar-filled Jif or Skippy may have counteracted the beneficial effects

I put nuts in salads, stir-fries and eat them straight with fruit. They’re very versatile. That peanuts offer no advantage is not strange, since peanuts are not nuts, but rather legumes.

Too avoid eating too many, eat pistachios that you have to crack. Even after doing so, the reward is small. All of this is assuming that pistachios are in the healthy group.

I eat peanuts, not peanut butter. Do whole peanuts have the same protective power as other whole nuts? (I am aware that peanuts are not actually nuts.)

You do not distinguish between peanut butter and peanuts. If there is no benefit from peanut butter, does that also mean no benefit from peanuts?

Most commercial peanut butter has the peanut oil removed and cheaper oils added. So you’re not getting the full peanut benefit.

Did people who ate WHOLE peanuts rather than peanut butter derive any benefit?

In other studies, people who eat peanuts (not peanut butter) do get benefit.

Did this study evaluate people who ate typical peanut butter, with hydrogenated peanut oil, or natural peanut butter, which has to be stirred? Another thing to consider is that peanuts are legumes and not true nuts.

The failure to distinguish between peanut butter and peanut butter loaded with sugar, salt and hydrogenated fats makes the indictment of the former quite meaningless.

Since peanuts are legumes and not nuts, how do peanuts compare with actual nuts?

Nuts should be compared with PEANUTS and not peanut butter!
There is hardly any information found in the article about the sort of peanut butter.
Until today many brands have “vegetable oil” added to them for a totally unclear reason.
The article only mentions this:

Second, the processing of peanut butter may affect the beneficial effects of nuts.

I’m 86 and eat peanut butter every morning.

Wonder if the same follows for almond, cashew, & hazelnut butters — not the same nutritional benefits as the nuts..?

The popular brands of peanut butter contain hydrogenated oil and sugar, both of which are going to affect their impact on one’s health. And which might be why they didn’t show the same benefit as regular nuts.

I read that eating nuts contributes to kidney stones. I used to eat a lot of almonds and got a kidney stone.

So what options do people with severe tree nut allergies have?? Anaphylaxis risk isn’t worth it. I make my own peanut butter by putting freshly roasted peanuts in my food processor and, if necessary, add maybe a teaspoon of peanut oil to make it a bit smoother. No salt. No sugar.

Many commercial peanut butters have the peanut oil removed and replaced with a less expensive oil, such as soybean. In addition, there is often added sugar and other ingredients. I wonder if this is why there is no benefit. I wonder if peanut butter made just from peanuts and salt would be protective.

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