Are Nuts the Elixir of Life?

There was a lady we once knew whose diet was solely eating nuts and nothing else. She was healthy, full of energy and well-versed in antiques and objects of virtu. She had an unusually slim figure, a fantastic memory and lived to a good old age. So I am over the moon to read that a handful of nuts a day can slash your risk of heart disease and cancer, according to scientists.

They found that eating just 20g of nuts every day could cut the chance of dying early by more than a fifth. Sunflower seeds, pecans and particularly walnuts are high in anti-oxidants which are thought to protect the body against cell damage. And peanuts are so healthy that a review suggests even peanut butter could help us live longer although the sugar and salt may cancel out some benefits.

An analysis of twenty studies by Imperial College London found those who eat an ounce of nuts daily slash their risk of coronary heart disease by almost a third while the risk of cancer fell by 15%. The findings also suggested that nuts could cut the risk of dying from respiratory disease and diabetes.

Co-author Dr Dagfinn Aune said: ‘We’ve found a consistent reduction in risk across many different diseases which is a strong indication that there is a real underlying relationship between nut consumption and different health outcomes. It’s quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food.’

Previous studies had suggested that nuts protect the heart and prevent premature death but there has been little evidence on cancer or other diseases. The review said that walnuts may be particularly good at warding off cancer and peanuts at cutting the risk of a stroke. The handful of nuts a day can include ‘tree nuts’ such as walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and pecans. But Brazil nuts, which are actually seeds, and peanuts, classified as legumes, were also included in the study as they have similar nutritional properties.

Despite being high in fat, all these nuts are healthy because they contain polyunsaturated fats while also packing in fibre, magnesium and Vitamin E. It’s believed they protect against heart and blood vessel disease by helping the body break down cholesterol and cutting its resistance to insulin. They may also reduce cancer risk by helping the body develop new blood vessels and maintaining cells.

The review published in the journal BMC Medicine found that at least 20g of nuts daily cuts the odds of dying from respiratory disease almost in half and slashed the risk of diabetes by almost 40% although the researchers noted more data is needed.

Scientists also found little evidence that eating more than 20g led to further improvements in health. Dr Aune said: ‘Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts, are also high in anti-oxidants which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risks.

‘Even though nuts are quite high in fat they are also high in fibre and protein and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time.’

As I have always relished nuts in principle I must now ensure that I eat them on a regular basis, not only for health purposes but because I enjoy the taste and flavour they imbibe in the process.


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