We have known for a while that nuts are a natural source of good fats, vitamins, and healthy minerals. Doctors and other health experts (including the HeartHealth Docs) have recommended nuts as part of a balanced diet for some time, and they are an important part of the Mediterranean diet, which seems to have a lot of heart healthy benefits.
But a new study, which you may have seen reported in the media, is the most comprehensive to date to look specifically at the link between nuts and heart prevention. The researchers analyzed data from 3 very large population health studies, including over 200,000 healthy adults, who were followed for up to 30 years to look at incidence of heart disease and stroke. What did they find?
1. Participants who consumed at least 5 servings of nuts weekly had about a 14% lower risk of heart disease than those who never ate nuts.
2. The link was similar for those who ate peanuts, tree nuts, or walnuts.
3. Surprisingly, there was a preventive benefit for heart disease but less so for stroke (with exception of peanuts and walnuts, which did have a slight positive effect).
4. Other not products, such as peanut butter, did not seem to have a protective effect.
Like a lot of population studies, this one was retrospective, so it did not prove that there is a direct link between nut intake and reduced disease. And the groups studied were not ethnically diverse. But it was carefully performed and in a very large population, so it is the best evidence so far that nuts are part of a healthy prevention diet.
Take away messages:
1. 1-5 servings of nuts weekly can be an important component of a preventive diet, especially for those who have, or are at risk for, heart and vascular disease.
2. All type of notes seem to be beneficial, even peanuts which are technically a legume.
3. Because nuts have a lot of calories, portion sizes important. A serving of nuts is 1 ounce, which is about 28 peanuts, or 23 almonds.
4. Processed products such as peanut butter do not seem to have the same beneficial effect.
So find ways to incorporate whole nuts into your diet, but watch the portions!
Here are examples of a single serving of almonds: