DALLAS – Help yourself to some nuts this holiday season: Regular nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease — in fact, were less likely to die of any cause — during a 30-year Harvard study.
Nuts have long been called heart-healthy, and the study is the largest ever done on whether eating them affects mortality.
Researchers tracked 119,000 men and women and found that those who ate nuts roughly every day were 20 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who never ate nuts. Eating nuts less often also appeared to lower the death risk, in direct proportion to consumption.
The risk of dying of heart disease dropped 29 percent and the risk of dying of cancer fell 11 percent among those who had nuts seven or more times a week compared with people who never ate them.
The benefits were seen from peanuts as well as from pistachios, almonds, walnuts and other tree nuts. The researchers did not look at how the nuts were prepared — oiled or salted, raw or roasted.
A bonus: Nut eaters stayed slimmer.
"There's a general perception that if you eat more nuts you're going to get fat. Our results show the opposite," said Dr. Ying Bao of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Researchers don't know why nuts may boost health. It could be that their unsaturated fatty acids, minerals and other nutrients lower cholesterol and inflammation and reduce other problems, as earlier studies seemed to show.
She led the study, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.