Eating a handful of nuts each day could help you live a longer and healthier life, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday.
Those who ate a handful of nuts each day, approximately the recommended 1.5-ounce serving, had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from any cause during a 30-year period, compared with those who did not eat nuts every day. Additionally, the researchers saw a 29 percent reduction in the number of deaths that resulted from heart disease - the leading cause of death in the United States - and an 11 percent reduction in the risk of dying from cancer.
"Somebody might read our study and say that's fine, but if we start encouraging nut consumption, that might lead to a greater chance of obesity, which is a major problem in the United States," said Charles Fuchs, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and a senior author of the report. "But interesting, what we find is that regular nut consumers are actually lighter. There's less obesity in that group."
The reduction in mortality was similar in both peanuts and different types of "tree nuts," such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and pine nuts. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, tree nut allergy is one of the most common food allergies for adults and children, and is usually lifelong.
The researchers - a group from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health - analyzed the data of more than 119,000 men and women in the United States. About 76,000 women provided information about their diet and lifestyle habits between 1980 and 2010 and more than 42,000 men did so between 1986 and 2010.
All participants filled out a detailed food questionnaire every two to four years with data on their diet and lifestyle factors, including how often they consumed nuts.
In addition to having a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, the researchers found nut consumers were more likely to exercise, take multivitamin supplements, consume more fruits and vegetables, and were less likely to smoke.
And contrary to popular belief, those who ate nuts more often were also leaner. Those who ate nuts seven or more times per week had an average body mass index score of 24.9, whereas those who never ate nuts had a body mass index score of 26.0.
"There's something unique about nuts. We're trying to understand why, what's the mechanism by which these things reduce the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer, as well as reducing the risk of diabetes," Fuchs said. "And we believe that there are substances within nuts that seem to affect energy or caloric pathways that alter metabolism in a positive way that allows you to contribute to weight loss."