Nuts are delicious, ubiquitous and portable. They might also be the key to a longer life, said Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“A pair of studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that people who ate nuts were 20 percent less likely to die than those who didn’t eat nuts,” Prescott said. “That really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. There’s been anecdotal evidence for a long time that nuts are healthy foods.”
Many cultures and diets known for “healthy eating” use nuts liberally, including Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Italian cuisines, he said.
The real surprise, Prescott said, was the inclusion of peanuts. Unlike pecans, walnuts and almonds, peanuts are technically a legume and are grown in the ground, not on trees.
“I would encourage people to take the news, and their nuts, with a grain of salt,” he said.
Don’t go overboard eating nuts — but find a way to work them into your diet, and you might be surprised at the benefits, he said.
Nuts are still high-calorie, high-fat foods. But what we’re now learning about healthy fats is related to the research of former OMRF researcher Petar Alaupovic, Ph.D., whose work influenced the way we understand healthy (HDL) and unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol.
“His research into apolipoproteins and lipoproteins was ground breaking,” Prescott said. “He understood that proteins and fats worked in tandem. Fats are essential to life and govern how the body interacts with those molecules.”
If taken as part of a balanced diet, nuts can have several downstream effects that add up to a longer life.
“For one thing, as a snack, nuts are tremendous at alleviating hunger,” he said. “They help you feel sated, which will keep someone like me from binging on something like carbohydrate-heavy potato chips.”
They’re also rich in protein, so they can be used as a meat substitute, he said. And people who are making those kinds of healthy choices are usually doing some other healthy things, like staying physically active.
“Adding a serving of mixed nuts, especially if you choose the lower-sodium variety, can be a healthy boost to your diet,” he said. “They won’t magically cure all of your ills, but they’re a pretty tasty step to a healthier lifestyle.”
Greg Elwell is a public affairs specialist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.