Nuts in general are considered to be nutritious and healthy. They contain high amounts of protein, fiber, and vitamins, and they can make a great addition to one’s diet. Those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets in particular rely on nuts to give them the protein they’re not getting from meat. Some nuts are healthier than others, of course, but most of the nuts that you can find at the grocery store contain valuable nutrients that you won’t get anywhere else.
The nutrients and vitamins in nuts can help your body in many ways. Brazil nuts, for example, contain minerals such as selenium, which has been shown to reduce your risk of various cancers. Other compounds in Brazil nuts can even help your skin, reducing dryness and increasing smoothness. Cashews can improve your eyesight due to their high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, two vision-boosting antioxidants. Lately, new research has found that nuts may even have unique benefits for those with diabetes–specifically, the ability to protect against heart disease.
The study, published in 2019 in Circulation Research, looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a long-running study that monitored the health of U.S. healthcare workers starting in the mid-1980s and running until 2014. Out of all the healthcare workers, 16,217 were living with diabetes. Participants in the study were asked to fill out a dietary survey every 2-4 years, a survey which included various questions regarding nut consumption.
After the study had run its course, in total, 5,682 patients had died of any cause, and 3,336 participants were found to have developed some form of heart disease. But when the researchers analyzed the results, they were surprised to find that overall, participants who ate more nuts had a lower risk of heart disease as well as death from all causes. Specifically, those who ate five or more servings of nuts a week had a 17% lower risk of heart disease and a whopping 34% lower risk of death from any cause. The study defined a “serving” as a handful of nuts.
In addition, participants with diabetes who started eating nuts after their diagnosis had a 15% lower risk of heart disease and a 27% lower risk of death from any cause compared to those who didn’t make any dietary changes.
So why do nuts have this apparent protective effect against heart problems? Science has no concrete answers, but we do know that nuts contain high amounts of unsaturated (good) fats, which lower cholesterol. They also contain fiber, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. These specific compounds found in nuts are known to be heart-healthy, for everyone–people with diabetes and people without it.
A healthy diet and lifestyle is paramount. If your diet consists mostly of fatty or fried foods and you eat a handful of nuts every now and then, your heart probably won’t see a benefit. But if you eat well and decide to add nuts to your already healthy diet, it’s very likely that you’ll boost your cardiovascular health whether you have diabetes or not.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld