In the first study of its kind, eating nuts, including peanuts, has been linked to fewer deaths across ethnic groups, even for people who had metabolic conditions like morbid obesity or diabetes, were smokers, or drank alcohol.
The large, observational diet study included lower-income Americans from the Southeast and Chinese people in Shanghai. All groups — blacks, whites, and Asians — showed longevity benefits from eating nuts. Study participants didn’t need to eat expensive nuts to add years to their lives — peanuts and peanut butter work as well as more costly varieties of nuts.
Deaths from heart diseases and strokes were 20 percent less likely over the five years of the large study of more than 200,000 people, even for those who included small amounts of nuts or peanuts (one-third of an ounce) in their daily diets, compared with people who ate no nuts at all. The results of the study — conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, the Shanghai Cancer Institute in China, and the Harvard School of Public Health — were just published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Consumption of nuts, particularly peanuts given their general affordability, may be considered a cost-effective measure to improve cardovascular health,” wrote the study authors. (They did not find a direct cause-and-effect relationship between eating nuts and living long — just an association.)
“The key message is that nuts are incredibly heart-healthy and can allow people to live longer and more productive lives,” says John Day, MD, a cardiologist and director of Heart Rhythm Services at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. He personally recommends that his patients have at least one serving of nuts or seeds each day.
“Nuts in particular have fiber, which can help lower LDL cholesterol, supply ample vitamin E, and even have L-arginine, all of which keep your arteries healthy and free of plaque buildup,” says Dr. Day. “If you can keep your arteries healthy you will be less likely to suffer many chronic medical conditions.”
While researching the heart-healthy habits of centenarians in China’s so-called Longevity Village, Bama County in Guangxi Province, Day observed that nuts and peanuts are regularly eaten there. “The Chinese have always enjoyed nuts as a snack or as part of their dishes,” says Day. “With a growing awareness of the health benefits of nuts, nut consumption has skyrocketed in China in recent years. They love their walnuts, cashews, chestnuts, pine nuts, and peanuts.”
Going for plant-based protein sources like nuts goes along with the newly proposed U.S. dietary guidelines, notes Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA,RD,CDN, nutrition columnist at Everyday Health and author of Read It Before You Eat It. “The guidelines are talking about having less meat, and using more plant sources.”
Why Nuts Are so Healthy
“Nut oils contain more polyunsaturated fats than saturated making them a healthy choice,” says registered dietitian Maureen Namkoong, MS, RD, who is director of nutrition and fitness for Everyday Health.
Beyond the healthy fats, nuts and peanuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and nutrients.
Namkoong also notes that nuts contain a “handful of vitamins and minerals,” plus:
- Arginine, an amino acid that may help decrease blood pressure
- Resveratrol, which can help reduce inflammation
- Phytosterols, which can help reduce cholesterol
- Flavonoids, which reduce inflammation and may inhibit platelets from sticking to arteries
Nuts and peanuts are also high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, points out Taub-Dix: “When we eat food we look at the package deal in concert with the diet. A nut does have a lot of value in the nutrient package.”
Nuts also have another important advantage: Satiation. “Which foods really satisfy? Nuts have that value in your stomach, in your head, and your mouth,” says Taub-Dix.
The Best Ways to Add Nuts to Your Diet
When adding nuts or peanuts to your diet, remember they’re high in calories. Taub-Dix says that you should use peanuts and other nuts as a substitute for fats in your diet. “If people are eating fats like mayonnaise and butter, those are the swaps to make for nuts or nut butter,” she suggests. You might use a tablespoon of peanut butter as a spread in place of a tablespoon of butter, for example.
In addition to fats, you are adding protein and fiber to your diet when you include nuts. “You’re getting fiber that you’re not getting in an once of chicken or meat,” notes Taub-Dix. You may have a preference for organic nuts over conventional nuts, it’s simply a matter of personal preference, she says. “It doesn’t change the nutritional profile.”
“One ounce (about one-quarter of a cup) is the typical serving size of all nuts and peanuts. Since they are nutritionally dense, a little goes a long way,” says Namkoong. “Avoid nuts that may have added sugars, like honey-roasted nuts, and instead look for dry-roasted or raw varieties.”
She also suggests measuring until you’re sure what makes a serving. “Eventually you will be able to eyeball a serving without measuring, or you might find that your hand is all you need since a small handful is a typical serving for most of us,” says Namkoong. Although it may be more expensive, she suggests trying pre-measured individual packages for convenience.
Nutrition Facts for Nuts and Peanuts
Here’s what you need to know about how much fat, protein, and fiber you add to your diet by having one ounce of nuts. The nutrition information is for dry-roasted nuts, listed from those highest to lowest in protein, using information from the USDA Nutrient Database Standard Reference.
- Peanuts: 14 gm fat; 7 gm protein; 2 gm fiber
- Almonds: 15 grams (gms) fat; 6 gm protein; 3 gm fiber
- Pistachios: 13 gm fat; 6 gm protein; 3 gm fiber
- Mixed nuts: 15 gm fat; 5 gm protein; 3 gm fiber
- Brazil nuts (dried): 19 gm fat; 4 gm protein; 2 gm fiber
- Walnuts (dried): 18 grams fat; 4 gm protein; 2 gm fiber
- Cashews: 13 gm fat; 4 gm protein; 1 gm fiber
- Pine nuts (dried): 19 grams fat; 4 gm protein; 1 gm fiber
- Pecans: 21 gm fat; 3 gm protein; 3 gm fiber
- Macadamias: 22 gm fat; 2 gm protein; 2 gm fiber