Sadly, for more than half my life, I had avoided some of nature’s most perfect and healthful foods: nuts and peanuts. I had been mistakenly told as a teenager that nuts were fattening and constipating, effects I certainly wanted to avoid.
But based on what I have learned to the contrary from recent studies, I now enjoy them daily as nuts or nut butters in my breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and snacks. A baggie of lightly salted peanuts accompanies me on excursions everywhere; I even keep a jar of peanuts in my car.
A series of large studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study of 76,464 women and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of 42,498 men, found that the more nuts people consumed, the less likely they were to die at any given age, especially of cancer or heart disease. And a clinical trial conducted in Spain showed that death rates were lower among those consuming a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra nuts.
However, these studies were conducted almost entirely among relatively well-to-do, well educated, white individuals, and despite the researchers’ care in controlling for other factors that could have influenced the results, there remained the possibility that characteristics of the participants other than nut consumption could account for their reduced death rates.
Now, strong links between nuts and peanuts and better health have also been found in a major study of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and varied ethnic groups — blacks, whites and Asians — many of whom had serious risk factors for premature death, like smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The results were published in March in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Their study, conducted among more than 200,000 men and women in the Southern United States and Shanghai, found that the more nuts people consumed, the lower their death rates from all causes and especially from heart disease and stroke.
And while it is true that more people today are allergic to nuts, and to peanuts in particular, than ever before, two recent studies have pointed to ways that may prevent children from developing a nut allergy.
The first study, published last year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that women who consumed the most nuts or peanuts during their pregnancies were least likely to have children with this allergy. The reduction in risk was highest among children whose mothers ate nuts five or more times a month.
The second study, published in February in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that introducing peanuts into the diets of infants four to 11 months old who were considered at high risk of developing a peanut allergy actually greatly reduced their risk of being allergic at age 5.
The researchers, from King’s College London, suggested that the common practice of withholding peanuts from babies may in fact account for the recent rise in peanut allergies.
Culled from Punch