5 ways a handful of nuts can save your life

A new meta-analysis estimates that 4.4 million premature deaths a year could be avoided by eating nuts.

If this were a MacGyver hacks type of article we might suggest something like using cashews to force open a jammed parachute in midair. Instead, this is just some good old-fashioned advice, backed by science, about how to easily and significantly reduce your risk of premature death.

A new meta-analysis from Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows that people who eat at least 20 grams (0.7 ounces, or about a handful) of nuts a day can reduce their risk of a number of disease, and rather significantly. The study goes so far as to conclude:

In 2013, an estimated 4.4 million deaths may be attributable to a nut intake below 20 grams per day in North and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific.

The team looked at 29 published studies from all across the globe, there were some 819,000 participants all together. While noting that there were variations in the populations included in the research, the team found that across the board, nut consumption was associated with a reduction in disease risk. Nuts included tree nuts – like almonds, walnuts, hazel nuts, et cetera – as well as peanuts (the nuts that bely their name as they are actually legumes). The findings were generally the same whether tree nuts or peanuts were taken into account.

“We found a consistent reduction in risk across many different diseases, which is a strong indication that there is a real underlying relationship between nut consumption and different health outcomes,” says study co-author Dagfinn Aune from the School of Public Health at Imperial. “It’s quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food.”

In a nutshell, so to speak, this is the takeaway for eating a handful of nuts daily, according to the research:

1. Reduced risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30 percent.

2. Reduced risk of cancer by 15 percent.

3. Reduced risk of premature death by 22 percent.

4. Reduced risk of dying from respiratory disease by 50 percent.

5. Reduced risk of diabetes by nearly 40 percent.

On the flipside of course is that fact that nuts are high in calories, thanks to those healthy fats. 20 grams of mixed nuts yields around 120 calories – walnuts are high in calories, pistachios are on the lower end. But that shouldn’t keep anyone from eating them in moderation, especially given their benefits.

“Nuts and peanuts are high in fibre, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats - nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk and which can reduce cholesterol levels,” says Aune.

“Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk. Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time.”

Which beings us to a bonus number 6: Reduced risk of obesity … which means feeling and looking better while you enjoy your longer life. And on that note, be right back, getting a handful of nuts.

Tags: Diseases | Fruits & Vegetables | Health

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