By Ross Walker

I have been saying for many years that the regular consumption of nuts is a very good method for assisting in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. A recent study from Norway has taken this concept further. They reviewed 20 prospective cohort studies from the United States, Europe, Asia and one from Australia which looked at the risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and death in men and women.

12 of the 20 studies followed just over 376,000 adults and found that consuming a handful of natural nuts per day (which equates to around 10 to 15 nuts) reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. Each 21g serve was linked to a 21% reduction in cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, the risk for heart disease specifically was reduced by around 29%, with a statistically insignificant reduction in stroke of 7%. 

Nine cohorts of just over 304,000 adults found that a similar serving of nuts per day reduced cancer risk by 15%, although the consumption of tree nuts specifically led to a 20% cancer reduction (whereas peanuts were less powerful, bringing the risk down by only 7%).

15 cohorts, including just under 820,000 people, specifically looked at death rates. There were just under 86,000 recorded deaths, and again, one serving of nuts daily reduced death rates by around 22%. When they examined the specific causes of death, there was a surprise reduction of people dying from lung disease by 52% and 39% from diabetics.

Other specific causes of death such as neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Motor neurone disease) were not affected by nut consumption, nor were kidney or infectious diseases.

The staggering conclusion of this report was that nearly four-and-a-half million premature deaths could be prevented in the USA, Europe, the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia just by people consuming a handful of nuts daily. 

These types of studies are not randomised controlled trials, as it is very difficult to perform this type of analysis with a diet. It may purely be that people who regularly consume nuts also practice a healthier lifestyle than people who don’t consume nuts. Therefore, nut consumption may be purely a marker – and not the cause – of the health benefits. But, nuts do contain a variety of healthy fats that have been shown to have significant health benefits with regular consumption, including omega three fatty acids and monounsaturated fats.

Nuts also contain high-quality amino acids e.g. arginine which is the precursor to nitric oxide, the ubiquitous vasodilator factor which improves blood flow to organs and helps to maintain lower blood pressure. Nuts also contain a variety of vitamins and trace metals that are vital for good health. 

It is my opinion that having 10 to 15 natural nuts on a daily basis should be part of our health strategy but I stress the word, natural. The salted, roasted variety has been tainted with vegetable oils which are hydrogenated and part of the trans fatty acid family. You lose the benefit when you have these types of nuts. You should also not view consuming nuts as an excuse to practice poor lifestyle habits such as cigarette smoking, the excessive ingestion of calorie dense, nutrient poor food, inactivity and excessive consumption of alcohol