You might have started incorporating a handful of nuts into your heart-healthy, brain-boosting diet, but a new study adds some compelling details about the nutritional star power of this all-time favorite snack.
Dutch researchers followed 120,000 adults (ages 55 to 69) as part of a Netherlands Cohort Study and reviewed data to find that eating nuts seemed to offer protection from various major causes of death. Both men and women who ate at least 10 grams of nuts per day were less likely to die from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease—and the lowly peanut played just as important a role, says lead author Piet van den Brandt, PhD, an epidemiologist and professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Compared to non-nut eaters, people who ate at least 10 grams a day had a 23% lower chance of death from any cause. They were 17% less likely to die from heart disease, 21% less likely to die from cancer, 30% less likely to die from diabetes, and 47% less likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases, according to the study, which was published in theInternational Journal of Epidemiology. Eating more grams, however, didn’t improve the percentages significantly.
“Peanuts and tree nuts are relatively rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats, protein, fiber, several B-vitamins, and antioxidants, which could explain part of the effect,” van den Brandt says. But it’s possible the nuts themselves aren’t responsible for the entire effect. “Nut consumers in this population tended to be in better overall health, eat more fruits and vegetables, use dietary supplements more frequently, and have a higher education level,” says Bradley Bolling, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of food science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the study. All these positive habits could help extend your lifespan.
Unfortunately for those of us with a peanut butter habit, the occasional PB&J doesn’t cut it. The authors aren’t quite sure why the blended version doesn’t offer the same death-defying advantage as the whole nut, but they suspect it’s due to the negative effects of added sodium or trans fats in some commercial peanut butter brands. (Other nut butters, like almond butter, weren’t analyzed in case you’re curious.) There may also be differences in the lifestyles or eating habits of people consuming more peanut butter than whole nuts, Bolling says. For example, the study authors considered the fact that peanut butter fans drank less alcohol, but other factors might have gone unnoticed.
Here’s what 10 grams of some of the healthiest varieties looks like: