Increase Your Lifespan and Your Health with Nuts and Seeds

Nuts may help increase your lifespan and lower your risk for disease

Nuts and Seeds
Dr. Fuhrman

Did you know that eating nuts may help increase your lifespan, lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, help in weight loss and are a benefit in diabetes management? How is it possible that such a tiny food possesses such amazing properties?

Nuts and seeds are such wonderful sources of micronutrients and healthful fats that I try to include them in a variety of ways when I am eating. I toss a few raw, walnuts and flaxseeds in my oatmeal at breakfast and add other nuts or seeds to the blender if I make a smoothie; I often add lightly toasted nuts and seeds to my salads at lunch and dinner; and I always use nuts to make creamy salad dressings and dips.

I also sometimes grind nuts as the basis of a crust, mixed with oats, for pies instead of using a traditional flour crust. Nuts and seeds are very versatile and healthful, but they are often mislabeled as fattening.  They are calorie-dense, so they are not for snacking on.  They replace the calories supplied by meats, oils and processed food in your diet and as such they offer well-documented cardiovascular and longevity benefits.

Nuts May Add Years to Your Life

In a study of Seventh Day Adventists, a group whose unique dietary habits have been demonstrated to lower their risk for certain diseases, nut consumption was among a number of lifestyle factors that were found to be associated with their longevity. On average, Adventists live 10 years longer than the average American. In the study, the Adventists who had a high level of physical activity, followed a vegetarian diet, and ate nuts frequently lived an average of eight years longer than those who did not share those habits.

An analysis from the Nurses’ Health Study, including more than 76,000 women, compared multiple lifestyle and dietary factors based on the size of their associations with mortality risk. Nut intake and fiber intake were the two dietary factors associated with a lower risk.

The PREDIMED study in Europe, investigating the health effects of a Mediterranean diet, assigned groups to a control low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts.

Both Mediterranean groups saw improvements in blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol, and five years later had experienced fewer heart attacks and strokes than the low-fat group.  A very interesting finding in the PREDIMED study was the link between nut consumption and a longer life. The participants who were already eating three or more servings of nuts a week before the study began, and then were assigned to the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group had the lowest risk of death throughout the duration of the study.

Why the link between nuts and longevity? It appears because nuts and seeds have properties that are protective against heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.

Eating five or more servings of nuts per week is estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 35 percent. This appears to be at least in part due to prevention of sudden cardiac death and in part due to cholesterol-lowering; other factors that may contribute include improved blood vessel function and reduced inflammation and oxidative stress.

Nuts provoke a minimal glycemic response, which helps to limit blood glucose and insulin after a meal, in turn helping to prevent insulin resistance and diabetes. Almonds, for example, have been found to decrease glycemic and insulin response of a carbohydrate-rich meal while reducing oxidative stress on cells.

There is also substantial evidence that nuts protect against cancer, not just from their own salient features, but also because their fats enhance the absorption of anti-cancer phytochemicals from other foods.

Use Nuts and Seeds to Replace Oil in Salad Dressings

An easy way to include good-for-you raw seeds and nuts in your diet is to replace the processed (no-fiber) empty-calorie oils found in most salad dressings with a nut-based dressing. This allows you to achieve the maximum nutrient value from a salad. In addition to increasing the absorption of nutrients in vegetables, nuts and seeds supply their own spectrum of micronutrients including plant sterols, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also a source of plant protein and fiber. Plus several seeds and nuts (flax, hemp, chia, and walnuts) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for brain health. Some seeds—flax, chia and sesame in particular—are rich in lignans, that have been shown to protect against breast and prostate cancer. Replacing olive oil-based dressings with vinegar, fruit and nut-based dressings are definitely the way to go.

Sources:

Baer HJ, Glynn RJ, Hu FB, et al. Risk factors for mortality in the nurses' health study: a competing risks analysis. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Feb 1;173(3):319-29.

Domenech M, Roman P, Lapetra J, et al. Mediterranean diet reduces 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure, blood glucose, and lipids: one-year randomized, clinical trial. Hypertension 2014, 64:69-76.

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med 2013, 368:1279-1290.

Fraser GE, Shavlik DJ. Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jul 9;161(13):1645-52.

Guasch-Ferre M, Bullo M, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, et al. Frequency of nut consumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC Med 2013, 11:164.

Continue Reading