Eating a Handful of Nuts Lowers Heart Disease, Cancer Risk

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Monday, December 12th, 2016
Consuming at least 20 g of nuts per day can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and premature death, according to a study in BMC Medicine.

Investigators analyzed 29 published studies from across the globe, consisting of up to 819,000 participants. This included more than 12,000 coronary heart disease cases, 9000 stroke cases, 18,000 cardiovascular disease and cancer cases, and more than 85,000 deaths.

The results of the study showed that 20 g per day of nuts – equivalent to a handful – can cut the risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30%, the risk of cancer by 15%, and the risk of premature death by 22%.

“In nutritional studies, so far much of the research has been on the big killers, such as heart diseases, stroke, and cancer, but now we’re starting to see data from other diseases,” said study co-author Dagfinn Aune. “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. It’s quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food.”

Included in the study were various types of tree nuts, such as hazel nuts and walnuts, as well as peanuts, which are legumes. The potential health benefits from regular nut consumption comes from the different nutrients they contain.

“Nuts and peanuts are high in fiber, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats – nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk, and which can reduce cholesterol levels,” Aune said. “Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts, are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possible reduce cancer risk. Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fiber and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time.”

The authors noted there is little evidence of improvement in health outcomes for individuals who consume, on average, more than 20 g of nuts per day. The investigators are now analyzing large published datasets for the effects of other recommended food groups on a wider range of diseases.

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