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March 2014

Cracking the Nut to a Longer Life

Humans have nibbled on nuts for centuries. Archeologists discovered almonds stashed in King Tut's tomb in Egypt. They also unearthed walnuts from the ruins of Pompeii. A long-time dietary staple, nuts come packed with nutrients, which could explain why a recent study found eating more of them may lead to a longer life.

A nut-filled finding

In the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at the eating habits of nearly 119,000 American adults. Over an average of 27 years, these people answered periodic questionnaires about what they ate. One question asked how often they consumed nuts on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.

The results suggest nuts may have a life-sustaining knack. Men and women who ate more nuts tended to live longer. In particular, eating 7 or more servings a week of nuts—any type—translated into a 20% lower death rate. What's more, a nut-filled diet was linked to a lower risk for major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses.

Overall, frequent nut eaters were healthier adults; they tended to weigh less and exercise more. They were also less likely to smoke. Yet, after accounting for these factors in their analysis, researchers still found a significant inverse relationship between eating more nuts and dying.

A healthy snack

Nuts belong to the protein food group. Although small in size, they deliver a big bite of nutrition. Naturally sodium free, they are a good source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Almonds, for instance, contain valuable magnesium and vitamin E. Walnuts brim with omega-3 fatty acids—the same heart-healthy substance found in some fish.

But don't go totally nuts for nuts, especially if you are watching your weight. Nuts are high in calories. It's best to eat them in small amounts, preferably in place of other proteins, such as meat, beans, and eggs. The American Heart Association recommends 4 servings—or small handfuls—a week.

When shopping for nuts, choose unsalted varieties. Avoid shelled nuts with cracks, holes, or signs of moisture or insect damage. Dried-out nuts will rattle when shaken. With unshelled nuts, check the expiration date. Nuts can spoil, so smell them for freshness, if possible.


Adding More Nuts to Your Diet

Shelled or unshelled, nuts by themselves are a tasty treat. They can also dress up your favorite foods. Here are some ideas to help you add more nuts to your diet:

  • Toss with steamed veggies. For example, pecans pair well with green beans, olive oil, and seasonings like garlic and parsley.

  • Treat as your go-to topper. Nuts add crunch to cereal, salads, and yogurt.

  • Say goodbye to bread crumbs. Coating your chicken or fish with nuts, such as chopped pecans, can bring out a new flavor.

  • Enjoy on the go. Combine nuts with pieces of dried fruit for homemade trail mix.


Find more tips on selecting and storing nuts at the Nut Nutrition Database


Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
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