Lots of news over the recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) article showing that nut consumption reduces one’s risk of death. (Click the NEJM link above, select “Quick Take” on the lower right side of the screen to get an overview of study results.) While smaller studies have shown nuts can prevent diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, this study looked specifically at preventing death, and included over 100,000 people who were followed for 20 years.

What does this data mean? My take:

  • Include a handful of nuts in your diet every day. How many nuts are in a handful? Check out the Almond Board of California’s website. They give examples of 1 oz of almonds, approximately 28 g, which is considered 1 serving. 1 serving of nuts was the amount studied in the NEJM article.
  • What nuts should you eat? All of them. Each type of nut has a different nutrient profile so mix and match.
  • Americans love peanut butter, a great healthy snack, however consider switching in cashew or almond butter. Peanuts are a “legume” while almonds, walnuts, cashews are “tree nuts”. You want to ensure you getting nutrients from both.
  • What type of nuts should you buy? This gets a little tricky and to be clear, the NEJM article did not report what brand of nuts people in the study ate.  Ideally, you want to eat raw nuts which means nuts that have not been roasted or salted. Unfortunately, raw nuts aren’t quite as tasty as dry roasted, salted nuts, so I mix raw nuts in with dry roasted, salted nuts. Overtime I can usually increase the raw nut to roasted nut ratio. One caveat is that roasted nuts are a bit easier on the digestion so if you’re new to nuts, you may want to start there.

It is important to remember that people in the NEJM study who ate nuts every day, also ate more fruits and vegetables, exercised more often, and did not smoke. Remember that for disease prevention, nuts should be just one more component of a healthy lifestyle – let’s not go nuts!

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Patient-focused treatment, and an individualized approach to oncology means Dr. Norleena Gullett is not just treating cancer, she's treating the whole person.