Nuts: My Anti-Death

People who eat a handful of nuts seven times per week are less likely to die young, says a large Harvard study today.
(New England Journal of Medicine)

Who would win in a fight between nuts and death?

Death always wins, eventually, but eating nuts will make it work for the victory. That's according to a compelling study today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed records of 27,000 deaths over a 30-year period. They found, as Dr. Jeffrey Drazen put it, "a significant reduction in mortality associated with nut consumption."

"There is potentially a 20 percent improvement in mortality," said Dr. Charles Fuchs of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, "which is quite striking."

Eating nuts meant about a handful (an ounce) of any type of nut, seven or more times per week, for years. People who ate more nuts were not only less likely to die during the 30-year period, but also, Drazen said, "leaner, less likely to smoke; more likely to exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink more alcohol." Yes, more alcohol. Even controlling for those associations, the nut-eating sect apparently enjoyed significantly fewer cancers, strokes, infections, and cases of kidney failure and cardiac disease.

(New England Journal of Medicine)

Food science is fickle in that even things we know to contain nutrients, antioxidants, etc.—things that are clearly good for cells in dishes in labs—often don't actually turn out to help us. We've know for a long time that nuts contain many things believed good and wholesome, but it was largely an assumption that eating them would actually translate into this sort of IRL outcome. And of course it might not be that nuts are in themselves great for us, just that they're neutral and fill a dietary space that might have otherwise gone to processed meats or Mega Stuf Oreos. It's also unlikely that all types of nut are equally associated with good health outcomes; this study just didn't draw distinctions.

In covering this story, NBC boasted that the singular Dr. Oz has been advocating nuts as one of his "superfoods" for quite some time, saying they are the best single thing you can eat.

"They have vitamins, minerals, nutrients, the healthy fats, the fiber," Oz said. "All of this is rolled up in this one little bitty product—which happens to one day give rise to a tree. It only makes sense that if we put it into our bodies, we'd reap the benefits as well."

You sort of win this round, Oz.

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.


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