You probably think we’re going to push broccoli or spinach, or some exotic food you know little about, like kimchi or spelt. But the big disease fighter you need to be eating more of is actually nuts, a super-yummy snack that could just save your life.
In new research published in the journal BMC Medicine, people who ate at least a handful of nuts every day faced lower risks of major diseases—we’re talking heart disease and cancers, among other ailments. “Nuts are high in protein, fiber, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, as well as some vitamins and minerals,” says study co-author Dagfinn Aune, MD, postdoctoral research fellow at Imperial College London and associate professor at Bjørknes University College in Oslo, Norway. “Some nuts like, walnuts and pecans as well as sunflower seeds, are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.”
The study, conducted by Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, looked at the relationship between nut consumption and disease risk by analyzing data from 29 published studies involving more than 815,000 participants worldwide. The findings showed that 20 grams of nuts a day—about as much as an average handful—can reduce people’s risk of coronary heart diseases by 30 percent, diabetes by nearly 40 percent, cancer by 15 percent, and premature death from other causes by 22 percent.
While the study doesn’t directly link any particular variety of nut to lowered risks of diseases or cancers, researchers did observe that peanuts are associated with a reduced risk of stroke, and tree nuts (cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts) are closely tied with a reduced risk of cancer.
“There was a reduced risk of so many different types of outcomes including coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease overall, mortality from cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes, infections, and all causes,” Dr. Aune says.
If that doesn’t convince you to add more nuts to your diet, the researchers also found that almost 4.5 million premature deaths potentially could have been prevented had those people been eating 20 grams of nuts daily. And if you’re trying to lose weight and have been steering clear of this snack, don’t worry: Dr. Aune says that although nuts have been thought to contribute to obesity and weight gain, most of the research has actually found no correlation between the two, so there’s no reason to avoid nuts and lots of reasons to eat them. “If you don’t have a nut allergy, go nuts!” concludes Dr. Aune.