According to an industry-funded, observational study in the New England Journal of Medicine, consuming either tree nuts or peanuts regularly is associated with at least a 10% lower risk of dying.
A second look was taken at the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and over 100,000 patients’ food frequency questionnaires were pooled for analysis. The participants were followed for up to 30 years in these studies, which is quite rare data to find.
People who reported eating nuts at least once a week cut their risk of dying, with a statistically significant hazard ratio of 0.89. Increasing nut consumption further reduced the risk of dying from conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Interestingly, peanuts and tree nuts were found to be protective in this way. In general tree nuts are credited with having a more beneficial profile of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils than peanuts, but in real life this may not be so important after all according to this study. This is also encouraging to many people who are allergic to tree nuts but not peanuts.
One of the most important considerations about a medication is whether or not it reduces mortality rates. Unfortunately most pharmaceutical companies do not look at this ultimate endpoint when trying to get their medications approved by the FDA. For example, many medications have been proven to lower diabetics’ blood sugars when compared to placebo, and do not carry any major excess risk… but few have been proven to extend life span. The same can be said for medications like Zetia, which lower cholesterol but have not been found to help prevent death.
Although caution must be applied to observational studies that are not controlled, randomized clinical trials, and that are funded by the relevant industries such as the Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation, it is still rare to find such a powerful study numbers showing mortality benefits to an intervention as simple and natural as eating nuts.
I prescribe myself a handful a few times a week with confidence. In the past I ate the low fat, high carbohydrate diet of a young man cooking spaghetti – and saw my HDL cholesterol hover around 38… but since cutting down on carbs, increasing tree nuts and healthy fats in my diet such as from olive oil, avocados, and even eggs, my HDL now exceeds 60. Of course my total cholesterol and even LDL have increased as well, but not to actionable levels.
This study further supports the notion that healthy fats in the diet are just that.
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