Regularly consuming pecan nuts, walnuts and other tree nuts could also help prevent fatal cases of respiratory disease and diabetes, according to a study published Sunday in the journal BMC Medicine, in which the authors analyze current research on the health benefits of eating 20 grams of nuts a day.
The team reviewed 29 published studies involving 819,000 participants – including 9,000 cases of stroke, 18,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and cancer, 12,000 cases of coronary heart disease, and more than 85,000 total deaths.
Existing research showed that eating 20 grams of nuts each day can reduce a person’s risk of coronary heart disease by almost 30 percent, risk of cancer by 15 percent, and risk of premature death by 22 percent.
While they observed some variations between the populations studied – differences between men and women, and people living in different regions – the authors found that eating a handful of nuts is associated with a reduction in disease risk in most groups.
Consuming a few nuts is also associated with a reduced risk of dying from respiratory disease by about 50 percent, and diabetes by almost 40 percent. However, the authors note that there is less data about these diseases in relation to nut consumption.
“We 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,” said study co-author Dagfinn Aune. “It’s quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food.”
Aune, a researcher at Imperial College London, attributed the health benefits of nuts to their nutritional value.
“Nuts and peanuts are high in fiber, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats – nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk and which can reduce cholesterol levels,” Aune said.
“Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts, are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk. Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fiber and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time.”
Eating more than 20 grams of nuts a day did not further improve health outcomes, according to the study.
The team now plans to review published research on the impact of other healthy foods like fruit and vegetables on a variety of diseases.