nuts a healthy option

By Linda Leising, RD

A Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2013 found that the more often nuts were consumed, the less likely participants were to die of cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. This observational study, “Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality,” adds to the increasing amount of research that shows nut consumption is related to reduced inflammation and visceral fat (fat surrounding the body’s internal organs), as well as reduced risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and colon cancer.

Recent research and findings around this study are specifically related to most types of tree nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. Although small in size, these delicious snacks pack a powerful nutritional punch! Tree nuts are plant-based proteins that contain dietary fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This combination of nutrients provides satiety, or a feeling of fullness, making them helpful for weight management. However, this also makes them calorie-rich: 160-200 calories per ounce. This “small handful” is equivalent to about ¼ cup, so a small portion is the key to making nuts a part of your healthy eating plan. Include nuts to replace unhealthier foods in your diet.

In addition, nuts are a good source of potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, selenium and vitamin E. Each type of tree nut offers a different profile of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so a variety of these types of tree nuts helps you to better reap the potential benefits.

The Harvard study noted that the more often participants included nuts in their food choices for a given week, the lower their death rate. They observed that the participants who included nuts most often appeared to make overall healthier choices, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising more, and were also noted to be leaner and less likely to smoke. So the idea is not just to eat more nuts, but to include them as part of an overall healthy lifestyle involving healthy food choices and regular exercise.

So go ahead and pack some nuts for your afternoon snack instead of chips or other less healthy foods. Or add them to your favorite dishes to reap those heart-healthy benefits!

Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at for more information on the many types of tree nuts and delicious ways to include them to your meal plan.

About the author:
Linda Leising, RD, is a senior clinical dietitian at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI). Her article appeared originally on RPCI’s blog, RPCI Cancer Talk as part of a monthly nutritional series. Visit the blog at