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The health benefits of eating more nuts

Jane Murphy / 18 August 2015 ( 16 April 2021 )

Want to live a longer, happier, healthier life? Step away from the biscuit tin and start introducing more nuts to your diet (unless you're allergic, in which case, you're excused).

10 reasons to eat more nuts
If you snack on nuts, you're less likely to fill up on unhealthy sugary or fatty snacks

If you snack on nuts, you're less likely to fill up on unhealthy sugary or fatty snacks. But that’s not all - there are loads of other potential health benefits to gain from going nuts for nuts. Here are some for you to get cracking…

1. They could help you live longer

Just half a handful of mixed nuts every day could significantly reduce your risk of dying prematurely. That's according to a 2015 study from Maastricht University, which looked at more than 120,000 men and women, aged between 55 and 69, over a 10-year period. Those who ate at least 10g nuts, including peanuts, daily had an average 23 per cent lower risk of dying during that time. One caveat, though: lay off the peanut butter, as sadly, it doesn't offer the same benefits

More foods that will help you live longer

2. They could do your heart a favour

Let's get down to specifics now. That daily serving of nuts could cut risk of heart disease by nearly a third, according to a 2014 review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which saw scientists pool data from 18 earlier studies.  Nuts contain a heart-boosting mixture of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals - plus, of course, if you snack on them, you're less likely to fill up on unhealthy sugary or fatty snacks.

More recent research found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate at least five one-ounce servings of nuts a week were 17% less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate one or fewer weekly servings.

Learn more about heart disease

3. They can help keep hunger at bay

We know what you're thinking: of course eating something – anything – is likely to stop you feeling hungry. But opting for 1.5oz almonds – that's about 30 nuts – satisfies hunger pangs without causing weight gain, say researchers at Purdue University in the US. The reason? Nutrient-rich almonds leave you feeling fuller for longer, so although those 30 nuts contain 250 calories, you’re less likely to be tempted to overeat later in the day.

Discover more healthy snacks

4. They could help ward off gallstones

A Harvard study published in 2004 found that high nut consumption (5 ounces or more per week) lowered the risk of gallstones by 30% when compared with low consumption (less than 1 ounce per month). How? Tree nuts - such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts contain high levels of essential fatty acid that help lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol in the bloostream. And because cholesterol plays a major role in the formation of gallstones, a nut-rich diet can prevent the condition from developing in the first place.  per week had an approximately 30% lower risk of gallstones. The results have never been repeated but given that nuts can help control cholesterol which plays a part in gallstone formation, it’s perfectly plausible.

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5. You could boost protection against cancer

Numerous studies have demonstrated the apparent cancer-fighting properties of nuts. A Chinese study published in 2020 for example in which researchers trawled 33 studies including more than 50,000 cancer cases found that high consumption of tree nuts was significantly linked with a lower risk of overall cancer. The protective effective was especially marked against cancers of the digestive system. More specifically, for every 20 grams a day increase in nut consumption there was a 10% fall in cancer risk.  

Find out more about healthy fats

6. They could help protect against a decline in brain power

As we get older increased oxidative stress and inflammation of the brain cells push up our risk of the mild cognitive impairment, which precedes dementia as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. A 2020 study found that walnuts may reduce the risk of developing, or delay the onset and/or slow the progression of these conditions. How? By decreasing the formation of harmful protein plaques in the brain, reducing oxidative damage, increasing antioxidant defences, and decreasing neuroinflammation. And why walnuts specifically? It’s not known, but they do provide a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid known to contribute to brain and heart health.

Learn more about the right foods to feed your brain

7. They could help you enjoy a better night’s sleep

Fancy a bedtime snack? Try Brazil nuts. They're rich in a slew of minerals including selenium, a low intake of which has been linked with shorter sleep, according to a study in the journal Appetite.  Brazil nuts also contain magnesium, iron, zinc, shortages of which are linked with shorter sleep. But don’t overdo it: it's possible to OD on selenium so just a couple of Brazil nuts a day is plenty. 

Learn more about how to get the restful sleep you need

7. They could help lower your risk of diabetes

We've already mentioned how snacking on nutrient-rich nuts instead of cakes or biscuits can help keep weight in check. It gets better - they could also help keep type 2 diabetes (as well as the heart disease that often goes hand in hand with it) at bay, according to a 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients. This suggested that frequent nut consumption could help improve the way the body deals with glucose and fats, aid weight control and improve the elasticity of blood vessels.  The authors surmise this could be due to their unique nutrient profile as well as to a variety of plant compounds found in nuts. 

Find out more about lowering your risk of diabetes

9. You could boost your libido

If you're healthier and more energised in general, of course you're more likely to feel 'in the mood' – so nuts in general could help maintain your sex drive. Almonds are often cited as an aphrodisiac: they're rich in essential fatty acids, which help maintain a healthy balance of sex hormones. What’s more eating a daily handful of pistachios can significantly reduce erectile problems, according to a study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research. Why? Nuts are rich in plant proteins, dietary fibre and antioxidants as well as being high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fatty acids, which can help reduce the risk of the furred narrowed arteries associated with problems getting an erection.

Low libido? Find out what could be causing it

10. They could lift your mood

Putting nuts on the menu could help reduce your risk of depression according to a 2016 Chinese study published in Depression and Anxiety. This revealed that the more often people ate nuts each week the lower their risk of depression. The study which looked at symptoms of depression in 13,626 people, is the first to find and independent link (i.e. separate from other factors such as a better diet generally) between eating nuts and depressive symptoms.

11. Nuts can help ward off food poisoning

A daily handful of skinless peanuts can improve gut health and boost the body's ability to ward off bugs, such as E.coli, according to research from the University of Maryland. Scientists found that they helped encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut. But why skinless? The researchers found that the thin, brown peanut skins inhibited the growth of good bacteria while promoting the growth of E. coli and Salmonella. Another word of advice: opt for unsalted peanuts.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.