If you want an easy way to lower your cardiovascular risk, just eat a handful of nuts each day. And it doesn’t just have to be expensive walnuts, almonds or cashews, as I’ll explain in a moment.
I often report about the health benefits of eating nuts. Nuts contain many different kinds of nutrients, including essentially fatty acids and bioavailable minerals. Nuts also contain healthy fats. After all, they have to provide everything a young plant needs to start growing.
Like the acorn from an oak tree, nuts contain soft “fruit” that surrounds the hard “shell” and protects the “nut” inside. From the nut, will grow the shoot that can eventually grow into another tree or plant. The nut is actually a botanical equivalent of the yolk of an egg, another perfect food from Nature.
When you think about it, both nuts and eggs support new life from plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Even the first mammals, which fed their young with breast milk, laid eggs.
Many previous studies found that expensive and exotic tree nuts–such as almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios, and walnuts–benefit the brain and body. But it turns out, even ordinary, inexpensive peanuts–which are technically legumes–have many health benefits. In fact, researchers from Vanderbilt University recently showed how lowly peanuts are just as beneficial as more expensive tree nuts.
For this study, researchers followed 71,764 people in the southeastern U.S. They mostly came from low-income households. And about two-thirds of them were African-American. They also followed 134,265 low-income men and women in Shanghai, China.
In the U.S., men and women who ate the most peanuts had a 21 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. In China, men and women who ate the most peanuts had a 17 percent lower overall risk of dying. Plus, men and women in the U.S. and China who ate the most peanuts lowered their risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 38 percent.
Not surprisingly, peanut butter did not reduce the risk of death. Of course, typical packaged peanut butters contain added ingredients like sugar and hydrogenated fats and oils, which probably wiped out any health benefit.
As I mentioned above, prior studies focused on tree nuts, which are far more expensive. So–many skeptics wrote off their benefits because only men and women with higher socioeconomic status can afford to eat them. Furthermore, they claimed men and women who can afford tree nuts can also afford better access to healthcare. But this theory assumes more healthcare helps someone live longer, which we know isn’t always true. (Of course, dietary studies are controlled for these factors.)
Socioeconomic factors can have profound effects on certain health outcomes. But only if researchers understand and interpret their data correctly.
For example, years ago, my colleagues, Drs. Walt Willett, Graham Colditz, and others at Harvard found that men and women in New England who ate strawberries year-round had the lowest risk of certain cancers. Some experts hailed the finding. They incorrectly assumed these men and women avoided cancer because they ate more strawberries, which are high in beta-carotene, the popular theory of the day.
This theory was wrong on two counts.
First, if you have ever been through a winter in New England, you know you can only eat fresh strawberries year-round if you can afford to pay $6 or more for a pound of them.
So, in this case, the improved cancer risks had nothing to do with the strawberries themselves. It related directly to consumers’ higher socioeconomic status. You see, when it comes to certain forms of cancer men and women with higher incomes fare better.
The real kicker was that strawberries don’t even contain beta-carotene, if anyone other than me, had bothered to check.
Nonetheless, the political bosses at the National Cancer Institute used this kind of flawed “evidence” to rush beta-carotene into expensive and dangerous clinical trials.
When it comes to nuts, this peanut study should hopefully help silence any skeptic who says socioeconomic status gives nut-eaters their added boost. Peanuts are very inexpensive foods.
So, go ahead and eat a handful of them a day. It won’t cost you very much, and your cardiovascular health will benefit tremendously. Plus, the misguided government experts who warned us for decades not to eat peanuts…or any other high-fat nut…will have to swallow their words.
- “Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality,” JAMA Internal Medicine, published on-line 3/2/2015