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July 14, 2016
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Nuts have gotten something of a bad reputation among dieters because
they are high in fat. Perhaps for that reason, we Americans don't eat
as many nuts as we should. As recently as 2010, a study of nut
consumption was still relying on data from 1996 which showed that
only about 11% to 15% of people ate any nuts at all in an average
We Americans eat far fewer nuts than people around the world who
live longer. Though there is some recent evidence that the popularity
of almonds has changed these facts a but, we Americans still only eat a
small fraction of the average amount of nuts Europeans eat on
average. In Greece, for example, the average person eats 32 grams of
nuts per day, more than 5 times what the average American eats,
according to a 2006 study from Bilbao Department of Public Health,in
Spain. In Spain, the average is 20 grams a day, almost 3 times more
than the amount eaten by the average American.
Nuts have been eaten for thousands of years. For at least 10 years,
studies have been trickling in with evidence of a broad range of health
benefits eating nuts can bring. That crescendo of evidence may have
finally reached the point where even the most reluctant nut-eaters will
be convinced because now, scientists have confirmed that eating nuts
in fact prevents dying from all of the major chronic disease --heart
disease, diabetes and cancer. Those who eat nuts have a 21% lower
risk of dying from all causes.
A Landmark Study on Nuts Shows That They Protect You from Dying
Most of the large studies on nuts suffered from one glaring flaw: they
only looked at homogeneous populations. As a result, it was nearly
impossible to say with the kind of certainty which government agencies
need before they can recommend dietary changes, that nuts improve
your chances of living longer.
Then, in 2015, a massive study was conducted jointly by scientists from
the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Harvard School of Public
Health and Shanghai Cancer Institute. The scientists set out to study
the effect of eating nuts on two very different populations --- 72,000
African Americans living in 12 southern states in the United States and
135,000 Chinese nationals living in Shanghai. The age ranges were
nearly identical, from 40 to 79 in the US and 40 to 74 in China.
The scientists followed the US group for 5 years, taking detailed
surveys of what they ate. The Chinese group was followed fro 12
years. At the end of the study, the researchers noted the deaths which
had occurred and the causes.
In the US group, those who ate nuts had a 21% lower death rate from
all causes. In China, those who ate nuts had a 17% lower death rate.
Exactly How Many Nuts Were Eaten?
In the study, both peanuts and tree nuts were considered "nuts". Tree
nuts include walnuts, pecans, macadamias, cashews, hazelnuts,
pistachios and almonds. Peanuts technically are legumes, similar to
lentils or beans.
Those in the study were deemed to have eaten nuts if they ate at least
1/4 ounce (7.09 grams) on average each day. Those who ate less
than this amount were deemed to be non-eaters of nuts.
What is remarkable about this study, as compared with others that
have reached similar results study specific nuts, is that is didn't seem to
matter which kind of nut the participant ate. All nuts appear to afford a
protection against early death.
Why Do We Live Longer When We Eat Nuts?
The short answer is that scientists do not know exactly why nuts help
us live longer. But they do have some pretty good hunches.
1. Nuts Are Magnesium-Rich Foods. We need magnesium to complete
300 essential chemical reactions and physiological functions in our
bodies, including burning calories, breathing and keeping our heart
beats regular. Without adequate magnesium, we are also at higher risk
for diabetes, scientists from Hung-Kuang University in Taiwan found in
2005. We are also at higher risk for obesity and high blood pressure.
Yet, our diets tend to be magnesium-poor. In fact, only 48% of
Americans get the recommended daily amount of magnesium, according
to a 2012 study from the Center for Magnesium Education & Research
2. Nuts Have Vitamin E. Not many foods contain significant levels of
Vitamin E. Nuts are one of the few. Only 10% of Americans consume
the recommended amount of Vitamin E, according to a 2010 study led
by Dr. Carol of the Louisiana State University AgCenter.
3. Nuts Have Fiber. Nuts provide fiber which independent of all other
dietary factors is associated with longevity, according to a 2011 study
from the National Institutes of Health.
4. Nuts Fit Our Guts More Than Meat. Nuts contain plant-based protein
and were probably a preferred source of protein by our prehistoric
ancestors, scientists have speculated.
Our guts are remarkably similar to those of other primates such as
chimpanzees, and these primates are basically vegetarians. Primates eat
nuts, insects and a very occasional bird or small animal for protein.
Why, Scientific American recently has mused, would we human
primates be any different if we are left to our natural devices?
Scientific American has made the bold observation that all our
ancestors were nearly all vegetarian and so are we.
Our plant-eating guts took millions of years to evolve. It's only been in
the fairly recent past, evolutionarily-speaking, that we have started to
eat non-plant sources of protein. Nuts are exactly the type of food we
were built to eat, these scientists say.
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|Eating nuts is associated with lower rates
of dying from all causes.