A recent study suggests that eating more nuts, primarily walnuts, may reduce the risk of dying for people with an increased risk of heart disease.
Many varieties of nuts have been studied for their potential health benefits. The essential fatty acids contained in walnuts have been shown to protect against heart disease. They are high in unsaturated fat and protein and contain no cholesterol. Sweet almond has also been suggested as a treatment for many conditions. There is some research supporting the use of whole sweet almonds as cholesterol-lowering agents, although it is not clear what dose may be safe and effective.
In a recent study, researchers analyzed the association between nut consumption and death in individuals at high risk for heart disease in a Mediterranean country. The study participants, 7,216 men and women 55-80 years-old without heart disease, were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, or a low-fat control diet. Although study participants did not have heart disease at the beginning of the study, they were at high risk due to family history, the presence of diabetes or other risk factors. Nut consumption was evaluated by dieticians and data on mortalities was collected through medical records. For the purpose of the study, 28 grams of nuts, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts, was considered one serving.
Throughout the average 4.8 year follow-up period, 323 total deaths, 81 heart disease-related deaths and 130 cancer-related deaths were reported. The researchers found that participants who consumed over three servings of nuts weekly had a 39 percent reduced risk of death from any cause compared to those who ate few or no nuts. Furthermore, those who consumed three or more weekly servings of walnuts had a 45 percent reduced risk of death from any cause. Similarly, eating three or more servings of nuts weekly was associated with significant reductions in death from heart disease. Individuals assigned to the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts had the lowest risk of death from any cause compared to the other groups.
The authors concluded that increased nut consumption, particularly walnuts, may significantly reduce the risk of death for individuals at high risk for heart disease. Further research in this area is warranted.
Guasch-Ferré M, Bulló M, Martínez-González MA, Ros E, Corella D, Estruch R, Fitó M, Arós F, Wärnberg J, Fiol M, Lapetra J, Vinyoles E, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Ruiz-Gutiírrez V, Basora J, Salas-Salvadó J; "Frequency of nut consumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial." BMC Medicine 2013, 11:164