Go nuts, stay healthy

Walnuts contain both omega-3 and omega-6. Photo from ODT files.
Photo: ODT files.

Eating a handful of nuts every day will help prevent premature death as well as stave off a wide variety of diseases, a new study has found.

In fact the healthy habit can cut people's risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30%, their risk of cancer by% and their risk of premature death by 22%.

But it's not just the big killers nuts are good at preventing.

Analysis of all current studies on nut consumption and disease risk has revealed that 20g a day - equivalent to a handful - was also associated with a reduced risk of dying from respiratory disease by about a half and diabetes by nearly 40%.

However, the researchers note that there is less data about these diseases in relation to nut consumption.

The study, led by researchers from Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is published in the journal BMC Medicine.

The research team analysed 29 published studies from around the world that involved up to 819,000 participants, including more than 12,000 cases of coronary heart disease, 9,000 cases of stroke, 18,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and more than 85,000 deaths.

While there was some variation between the populations that were studied, such as between men and women, people living in different regions, or people with different risk factors, the researchers found that nut consumption was associated with a reduction in disease risk across most of them.

Study co-author Dagfinn Aune from the School of Public Health at Imperial says they are starting to see data showing an association between nut consumption and reduced risk across many different diseases, not just cancer and stroke.

"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. It's quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food," Mr Aune said.

What makes nuts so potentially beneficial is their nutritional value.

Although they are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre, magnesium, protein and polyunsaturated fats - beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels.

"Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts, are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk. "

Like anything though, nuts should be consumed in moderation.

The study found that if people consumed on average more than 20g of nuts per day, there was little evidence of further improvement in health outcomes.

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