Adding to the many benefits of nuts including reducing heart disease, research has confirmed that increasing our intake of nuts decreases our risk of diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
The Harvard Medical School researchers followed 75,680 women from the Nurses’ Health Study – started in 1976 and expanded in 1989. The researchers measured nut consumption among the subjects and updated it every two to four years.
Those who ate at least one ounce of nuts twice a week had a 35% lower incidence of pancreatic cancer and a 32% lower incidence of diabetes.
This effect remained after cancelling out other known causes of pancreatic cancer. Those included higher BMI, less physical activity, greater consumption of red meat and less consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Other research has found that eating more nuts helps prevent disease. In fact, another study from Harvard – this from the School of Public Health – found that eating more nuts and peanut butter reduced the risk of diabetes. Though peanuts are not really nuts – they are legumes – they are still considered nuts among most nutritionists and researchers.
Those who ate an ounce of nuts at least five times a week had 27% lower incidence of diabetes compared to those who ate no nuts. And those who ate an ounce of peanuts or peanut butter at least five times a week had 21% lower incidence of diabetes.
Other studies have shown that nuts reduce cholesterol, and reduce heart disease. A large review of research by scientists at California’s Loma Linda University found that consuming nuts at least four times a week reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 37%. And each weekly serving of nuts reduces the risk of heart disease by over 8%.
Other research has found that red meat diets increase pancreatic cancer risk.
The reasons for nuts’ ability to reduce cancer, diabetes and heart disease relate to a combination of their healthy fats, amino acids, antioxidants, minerals and other phytonutrients.
A study by researchers from the University of Georgia has found that tree nuts have even more heart-healthy nutrients than previously thought.
The researchers studied healthful constituents of ten tree nuts: almonds, black walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, English walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, and pistachios. (Peanuts are legumes – not tree nuts). They found that the percentage of heart-healthy fats to be primarily unsaturated oleic and linoleic fatty acids.
Most of the nuts maintained lower than 10% saturated fats, except for Brazil nuts (24%), cashews (21%), macadamias (17%), and pistachios (13%). These are also known as the more fatty nuts.
The tree nuts also contained heart-healthy tocopherols (natural form of vitamin E), which ranged from 1 to 33 milligrams for every 100 grams of the nut meat.
The researchers also found that six nuts also contained tocotrienols (another type of natural vitamin E): Brazil nuts, cashews, English walnuts, macadamias, pine nuts, and pistachios.
They also found that all the nuts contained significant phytosterol content, and mostly above the levels that have been reported in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
Heart-healthy phytosterol content was highest in pistachios, containing over 300 milligrams for every 100 grams of the nut meat. Pine nuts came in second, with 272 mg/100 g nutmeat.
Nuts contain a balance of healthy fats. These include monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, polyunsaturated fats like linoleic acid, and long-chain polyunsaturates such as alpha-linolenic acid – in some (like walnuts and pecans) but not all nuts. Meanwhile, saturated fat levels are balanced, but reasonably low in nuts.
Almonds, for example, have 4% saturated fat, 32% monounsaturated fat, 12% polyunsaturated fat.
While tree nuts are most known for great protein sources – most having all the essential amino acids – a number of studies have confirmed that diets with more nuts provide cardiovascular prevention. The reasons, as this study presents, are their lipid content, phytosterol content, and tocopherol and tocotrienol content.
Nuts are also high in phytonutrients such as tocopherols and B vitamins, as well as phenols. Nuts also contain phytosterols – shown to be heart healthy as discussed above.
Phytosterols reduce cholesterol absorption because they displace cholesterol from microscopic intestinal biomolecules called micelles. This prevents the displaced cholesterol from being absorbed through the gut.
As such, phytosterols have been shown to reduce LDL – those oxidation-friendly containers that transport cholesterol (often incorrectly called “bad cholesterol” – it is “bad” but not cholesterol).
A review of research from the Netherlands’ Wageningen University found that 2.15 grams of phytosterols per day reduced LDL by an average of 8.8%.
Nuts’ antioxidant effects aren’t often considered. Nuts have significant antioxidant effects within the body. In a crossover study from Thailand’s Mahidol University found that a diet with increased intake of walnuts resulted in higher blood antioxidant values than either a diet with increased fish intake or a control diet.
Less known is the fact that nuts contain healthy doses of magnesium, calcium and potassium, and many contain good quantities of selenium. Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium, at 540 micrograms per ounce, according to the USDA database.
Most nuts are also complete proteins, containing all the essential amino acids for the body to build its own proteins, without the acidic plasma side effects. An ounce of nuts will typically contain 4-5 grams of plant-based protein, as well as a few grams of fiber to boot.
Nut processing has mixed effects upon their nutritional content. Blanching of nuts like almonds and pistachios can destroy many of the nut’s antioxidants, but roasting seems to preserve many nuts’ antioxidant phenolic compounds – at least better than blanching.
Bao Y, Hu FB, Giovannucci EL, Wolpin BM, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Fuchs CS. Nut consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer in women. Br J Cancer. 2013 Oct 22. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.665.
Jiang R, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Liu S, Willett WC, Hu FB. Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. JAMA. 2002 Nov 27;288(20):2554-60.
Demonty I, Ras RT, van der Knaap HC, Duchateau GS, Meijer L, Zock PL, Geleijnse JM, Trautwein EA. Continuous dose-response relationship of the LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of phytosterol intake. J Nutr. 2009 Feb;139(2):271-84. doi: 10.3945/jn.108.095125.
Ostlund RE Jr. Phytosterols and cholesterol metabolism. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2004 Feb;15(1):37-41.
Hudthagosol C, Haddad E, Jongsuwat R. Antioxidant activity comparison of walnuts and fatty fish. J Med Assoc Thai. 2012 Jun;95 Suppl 6:S179-88.
Kelly JH Jr, Sabaté J. Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. Br J Nutr. 2006 Nov;96 Suppl 2:S61-7.
Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2010 Jul;2(7):652-82. doi: 10.3390/nu2070683.
Robbins KS, Shin EC, Shewfelt RL, Eitenmiller RR, Pegg RB. Update on the Healthful Lipid Constituents of Tree Nuts. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Oct 27.
An orthodontist explains how to help prevent crooked teeth in your kids naturally. Read More
Imbalances in the sacroiliac joint region can produce low back pain. Here are some exercises that can help strengthen and… Read More
Certain plant nutrients can fight macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness. Learn which nutrients and foods are effective for… Read More