Are Nuts Good for You… or an Unhealthy Indulgence?
They’re filling and delicious, but are nuts good for you? The latest research shows that healthy nuts may be life-savers.
Almonds are one of my favorite snacks, but they’ve gotten a bad rap as a high-fat food over the years. The truth is that you can forget their high fat and calorie content, the data on nuts are now indisputable. If you’re still asking, “Are nuts good for you?” you can finally stop and accept the consistent results from study after study showing that nuts are healthy, don’t lead to weight gain, and protect you from just about every major disease there is.
Eating Nuts and Living Longer
The more frequently you eat nuts, the longer you’re likely to live, according to the largest study on nut intake and mortality ever conducted, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. Among 76,464 men and women, eating nuts every day lowered the risk of death by 20 percent compared with participants who did not eat nuts at all. The risk of dying was 15 percent lower for those who ate nuts five to six times per week, 13 percent lower for two to four times per week, 11 percent lower for once per week, and 7 percent lower for those who ate nuts less than once compared to those who never eat nuts.
Results were similar for peanuts and tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios, indicating that these may all be considered healthy nuts so long as they are well tolerated.
Risk of Many Diseases Is Lowered By Nut Consumption
In addition to studying the association between eating nuts and dying from all causes, the researchers looked at the link between nut consumption and the risk of dying from certain diseases. They found that eating nuts significantly decreases the risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.
Other studies have found that increased nut intake is associated with reduced risks of these as well as other specific diseases including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, gallstones, diverticulitis, and death from inflammatory diseases.
Why Are Nuts Good for You?
Why are nuts good for you if they are so high in fat and calories? “Nuts are nutrient-dense foods that are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and many other bioactive substances, such as phenolic antioxidants and phytosterols,” the authors write. “In addition, nutrients in nuts, such as unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins (e.g., folate, niacin, and vitamin E), minerals (e.g., potassium, calcium, and magnesium), and phytochemicals (e.g., carotenoids, flavonoids, and phytosterols), may confer cardioprotective, anticarcinogenic, antinflammatory, and antioxidant properties,” they said.
Indeed, nuts appear to lower disease risk because of their ability to improve many of the risk factors that underlie chronic disease. For instance, nut consumption has been shown to decrease cholesterol, oxidative stress, inflammation, fat in the abdominal area, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and blood vessel (endothelial) dysfunction. Not many other superfoods have been shown to exert such a wide variety of health benefits.
Don’t Worry About Weight Gain from Healthy Nuts
You may be concerned that frequent nut consumption can result in weight gain. However, in this study, increased nut intake was associated with less weight gain. Similarly, in many other studies, increased nut consumption was associated with reduced waist circumference, less weight gain, and a decreased risk of obesity, according to the researchers. The Adventist Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study, and others showed that individuals who consume nuts regularly tend to weigh less and have a lower risk of weight gain than those who rarely consume them.[2-4]
Incorporating nuts into diets appears beneficial for weight control, possibly because of their higher amounts of protein and fiber which enhance satiety and suppress hunger. Not only that, but there is recent evidence that some of the fats in nuts are poorly absorbed, causing the calorie calculations to overestimate the actual calories in nuts.[5,6]
How to Incorporate Healthy Nuts Into Your Diet
In the not too distant past, nuts were considered unhealthy because of their relatively high fat content. In contrast, recent research suggests that regular nut consumption is an important part of a healthful diet. There’s no longer any need to ask, “Are nuts good for you?” They are, and you should be eating them often. Try to include at least an ounce and a half of almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, or walnuts into your daily meals and snacks. If possible, use these healthy nuts as a replacement for less nutritious foods. If you tolerate peanuts, these can also be included on occasion.
Avoid purchasing nuts roasted in vegetables oil. Try to purchase them raw and roasting them yourself, if desired. Mix together your own combinations of healthy nuts and seeds, coconut flakes, and dried fruits for unique snack mixes. Nuts can be cooked into to soups, stews, curries, and stir fries, or tossed into salads. For even greater nutrition and digestibility, experiment with soaking nuts overnight in water and then blending them into smoothies or making homemade nut milks.
Share Your Experience with Nuts
Do you have any favorite ways to get more nuts in your diet? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
 N Engl J Med. 2013;369:2001-2011.
 Arch Intern Med. 1997 Oct 27;157(19):2249-58.
 BMJ. 1998 Nov 14;317(7169):1341-5.
 Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1913-9.
 Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):296-301.
 Br J Nutr. 2012 Jan;107(1):120-5.
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.
In the not too distant past, nuts were considered unhealthy because of their relatively high fat content.
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