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Large study highlights health benefits of nuts

November 25, 2013

Nuts have long been hailed for their significant health benefits, and an extensive new study from researchers in Boston suggests the benefits may be greater than originally thought. A team of scientists from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health, found that people who have even just a handful of nuts every day saw a significant improvement to longevity.

Decades of research
The findings, which were published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, relied on data from more than 76,000 women and 42,400 men over the course of 30 years. They discovered that people who ate nuts every day had about a 20 percent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to people who did not eat them. Specifically, they were 29 percent less likely to die of heart disease, 24 percent less likely to pass away from respiratory disease and 11 percent less likely to die as a result of cancer.

"Our results are consistent with the findings in previous, smaller studies. The Adventist Health Study showed that, as compared with nut consumption less than once per week, consumption five or more times per week was associated with reduced total mortality among whites, blacks, and elderly persons," the researchers wrote.

Which nuts are best?
Although the study did not pinpoint which nuts are the best part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, previous research has found that specific options may be better than others, depending on what type of health benefits you're looking for. For instance, older adults looking for a boost in their cognitive function may want to add some almonds to their diet. Almonds contain high levels of vitamin E, and recent studies have shown that people who have more vitamin E in their diets tend to experience less cognitive decline as they get older.

Of course, almonds are not the only nut to provide considerable health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, walnuts are particularly helpful as well because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that has been tied to everything from better cognitive function to improved heart health. Walnuts are also a good source of fiber and unsaturated fats.