Nuts have long been considered part of a healthy diet and now a new study supports their role in protecting against heart disease.
Researchers found that people who regularly eat nuts — and that includes peanuts, which are actually legumes — have a 14 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, compared to those who rarely or never consume the food, according to the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
“The take home message is to include a handful of nuts per day as a part of a healthy diet to improve heart health and the risk of other chronic diseases,” said the study’s lead author, Marta Guasch-Ferre, a researcher in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Nuts are high in healthy fat, fiber, minerals, vitamins and several other bioactive compounds, such as antioxidants, which may in part explain their beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.”
Guasch-Ferre and her colleagues found small differences between the different types of nuts, but none stood out as better than the rest.
One perplexing finding was that peanut butter wasn’t protective.
“We believe one of the reasons is that usually peanut butter is consumed with unhealthy foods such as white bread,” Guasch-Ferre speculated.
The new study followed over 210,000 people including women from the Nurses’ Health Study and the men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, some for as long as 32 years.
Earlier studies had shown that nut consumption was associated with longer life and with a lower risk of high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This is the first large scale study to show that regular nut consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Guasch-Ferre said.
For those worried about high-calorie nuts and weight: Nuts are associated with lower weight gain and lower risk of obesity, probably because they make people feel fuller, Guasch-Ferre said.
Walnuts, in particular, are a great source of magnesium; higher levels of magnesium have been linked with reduced symptoms of depression.
“Nuts are a good source of omega-3-fats, fiber, vitamin E, and the amino acid arginine,” said Madelyn Fernstrom, nutrition editor for NBC News. “Together these nutrients support heart health, circulation, as well as both muscle and brain function.”