Preventing Heart Disease with almonds- Is this study Nuts?
Posted on November 26th, 2013

A study published today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine draws a connection between the daily consumption of tree nuts ( not just almonds) and a reduction in overall deaths from all causes.

Nuts are known to be rich in a number of nutrients including unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some previous observational studies seemed to show a correlation between nut consumption and reduced cardiovascular disease.3 Previously a randomized control trial showed that patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease who were put on a Mediterranean diet which happens to also include nuts had a significantly lower risk of cardiac events.4 Other studies have shown a connection between nut consumption and a reduction in inflammation, blood sugar and blood pressure as well as some types of cancer.

So are nuts the new miracle cure? Well yes and no. As with most nutrients its a matter of balance. The study published in the NEJM was an observational study. They followed a group of doctors and nurses over many years and documented their diet and recorded their illnesses. What they found is that there was an inverse relationship between nut consumption and death from all causes including heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Those who ate a serving of nuts once a day had the lowest risk.

As mentioned above, other studies in the past have also suggested that nuts may play a role in reducing many different diseases and nuts are now a recommended part of a balanced diet to reduce heart disease.

So where is the "No' part of the yes and no. There are two things we should bear in mind with these results. First, this was an observational study. It was not randomized and therefor there may be other factors not accounted for that resulted in fewer deaths. Its possible that people who eat nuts are more likely to participate in other behaviors that are healthy or maybe they avoid certain unhealthy behaviors or perhaps as a result of eating more nuts they are eating fewer potato chips and its the reduction in potato chip consumption that is really responsible for the reduction in deaths. This is a weakness of all observational studies and it must be kept in mind when we interpret the results.

Second, adding nuts to a poor diet may not improve anything if all we are doing is adding more calories and fat. The people in these studies were most likely eating nuts instead of something else. It would be naive to assume we could continue eating cake and ice cream and expect the nuts to counteract the effects of foods high in saturated fats. If nuts are to become part of a healthy diet the rest of the diet needs to be healthy as well. The nuts need to be consumed as a replacement for something else, not in addition to those things. Adding them to a bad diet may do nothing more than add to our waistlines.

While this study proves nothing it is suggestive and adds to a body of evidence that has been accumulating that nuts can be an important part of a healthy diet. If anyone really wants to improve their overall health and gain the health benefits that nuts may offer it would be best to overhaul their daily food intake to include nuts as part of a well balanced diet  (See Choosemyplate.gov) or as part of the Mediterranean diet (See here)

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