Avoiding heart disease may be a nutty idea.
That’s the conclusion of a new study of more than 210,000 U.S. adults tracked for 32 years. Researchers found that those who regularly ate peanuts, walnuts, cashews and other nuts had a lower risk of heart disease.
The findings “support recommendations of increasing the intake of a variety of nuts, as part of healthy dietary patterns, to reduce the risk of chronic disease,” said study author Marta Guasch-Ferre. She is a research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Guasch-Ferre spoke in a news release from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which published the findings Nov. 13.
The research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It found that—compared to people who never ate nuts—people who ate walnuts one or more times a week had about a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease. Those who ate peanuts two or more times per week had about 14 percent lower risk, and those who ate tree nuts—such as almonds, cashews, pistachios or macadamia nuts—had a 15 to 23 percent lower risk.
The investigators found no link between total nut consumption and stroke risk, but they did find that people who ate peanuts and walnuts, in particular, had a lower risk of stroke.
One expert who reviewed the findings stressed, however, that the study could only point to an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship.
“It should be recognized that persons who incorporate more nuts into their diet may reflect those who make better lifestyle choices overall, including healthy nutrition choices and regular exercise,” said Dr. Benjamin Hirsh. He directs cardiology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
Dr. Rachel Bond helps direct women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said that the study did have some “shortcomings”—only white health professionals were included, and there wasn’t much detail on how the nuts were prepared before eating.
But she said the findings “attest to the increasing evidence on the heart benefit and safety of nuts, which has prompted the inclusion of this food group in the American Heart Association guidelines.”
And how might nuts work their heart-healthy magic? According to Bond, “it may be through their abundance of fiber, nutrients and antioxidants. While they are high in calories and fat, they contain mostly healthier fats, which can lower risk of heart disease.”
But she believes people can still go nuts on too many nuts.
“In a nutshell, pun intended, nut consumption seems to be beneficial for heart healthy lifestyle, when done in moderation,” Bond said.