Jane Brody, the widely-read New York Times health writer, has pronounced nuts a valuable addition to Americans diets suggesting that they can improve health and perhaps extend life. She based her article primarily on the results of two long-running observational epidemiologic studies: The Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Together, they have followed over 119,000 men and women for several decades, evaluating their dietary intake from reports on periodic questionnaires.
The authors of this latest study found that nut consumption was inversely associated with the risk of death: that is, the more frequently participants ate nuts, the lower the risk of death from any cause. Similarly, they also found such associations between nut consumption and deaths from cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease.
Consumption of any nuts whether tree nuts such as almonds or pistachios or peanuts was associated with such decreased risk, and the effect was greatest with respect to deaths from heart disease.
As Ms. Brody reported, there are several possible science-based reasons why these associations might be valid: perhaps the unsaturated fats found in nuts replace the saturated fats in other snacks people might eat. Or perhaps nut consumers have healthier lifestyles overall.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava commented This is a massive body of data, but we must realize that it is derived from observational studies, including self-reported food intakes, which cannot be used to prove causation. As noted above, there may well be other factors besides nut consumption that play a significant role in these results. She continued Having said that, it is certainly true that nuts can contribute valuable nutrients to the diet. It s important to remember, though, that just adding nut consumption to an unhealthy diet/lifestyle is unlikely to decrease mortality risk.