How Eating Nuts Will Help You Live Longer

Nuts Boost Energy and Lower Risk for Cancer

Nuts

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Nuts are a delicious part of a healthy anti-aging lifestyle, helping you to ward off chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. And thanks to a review of two large-scale, long-term studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, there's also a strong association between consuming nuts of all kinds and living longer. In that research, eating one ounce of nuts seven or more times per week daily was linked to a 20% lower risk of death over a 30-year period.

Further, a 2015 paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine also found that eating nuts can improve longevity. The study involved more than 200,000 people in the U.S. and China from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Nuts, Health, and Longevity

Studies conducted over the past 20 years have shown that eating nuts are linked to a lower risk of colon cancer, gallbladder disease, and diverticulitis, along with lower rates of some disease markers like inflammation, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and dangerous belly fat.

To determine whether eating nuts might lower mortality rates, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital and elsewhere examined data from two major longitudinal studies. The first was the Nurses' Health Study, an epidemiological investigation into lifestyle factors influencing the long-term health of women. The second data set involved male adults recruited for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

Detailed diet questionnaires from more than 76,000 women and 42,000 men were compiled over three decades. On the question of nut consumption, participants were asked how often they ate approximately a 1oz (28g) serving of nuts: never, one to three times each month, once a week, all the way up to several times per day.

After analyzing 30 years' worth of data, the results linked eating 1oz (28g) of nuts each day to a 20 percent reduced risk of death from any cause, including cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.

Which Nuts Were Best? 

The diet surveys asked only whether the subjects ate tree nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts, or whether they were eating peanuts (actually a legume, not a true nut). The lowered death risk was consistent, whether participants regularly ate tree nuts or peanuts.

Weren't these just really healthy people, to begin with? Indeed, the female participants were nurses, and the male subjects recruited from health professions like optometry, dentistry, and pharmaceutical science—an intentional bias aimed at gathering adults who would be motivated and willing to make a long-term commitment to the health studies.

The research revealed that nut-eaters are generally leaner, less likely to smoke, and more likely to eat fresh produce, and get regular exercise. To account for this, the researchers adjusted for, or ruled out, many potentially confounding risk factors, such as the subjects' overall energy intake, their consumption of alcohol and red or processed meat, activity level, body mass index, family medical history, etc.

While it's possible that there are lifestyle factors not accounted for in the analysis, the researchers point out that they did find a "dose" relationship. That is, the more often subjects ate nuts, the lower the death risk. For example, eating nuts only once a week was linked to a 7 percent lower risk of mortality in both men and women, but eating nuts once or more each day was associated with a 20 percent lower death risk. While this doesn't prove that nuts keep people alive longer, the trend suggests that eating nuts more often correlates with better longevity.

What Makes Nuts So Healthy?

Nuts are a great source of healthy unsaturated fat, longevity-boosting dietary fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants—all of which are associated with less disease. Nuts are featured in the FDA's MyPlate food guidelines in the same protein category as meat and beans.

Some people worry they will gain weight if they eat nuts. But surprisingly, the bodyweight of people who regularly eat nuts compared to other energy-dense snacks has not been shown to be higher than that of non-nut eaters, according to a 2008 article in The Journal of Nutrition.

Bottom line: There's strong evidence that eating nuts regularly can boost your health and your longevity. These surveys did not distinguish between roasted or raw, or salted or unsalted nuts. Consuming too much salt is linked to higher blood pressure, however, so best to choose unsalted or low-sodium nuts when possible.

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  1. Bao Y, Han J, Hu FB, et al. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(21):2001-2011. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1307352

  2. Luu HN, Blot WJ, Xiang Y, et al. Prospective evaluation of the association of nut/peanut consumption with total and cause-specific mortalityJAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(5):755–766. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8347

Additional Reading
  • Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease With a Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1279-1290.
  • Hung N Luu et al. "Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality." JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8347.
  • King JC, Blumberg J, Ingwersen L, Jenab M, Tucker KL. "Tree Nuts and Peanuts as Components of a Healthy Diet." J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1736S-1740S.
  • Ying Bao, Jiali Han, Frank B Hu, Edward L Giovannucci, Meir J Stampfer, Walter C Willett, and Charles S Fuchs. Association of Nut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. N Engl J Med. 2013;369:2000-11.