Want to add years to your life? Go nuts! The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study that showed people who ate a handful of mixed nuts on a daily basis were 20% less likely to die from heart diseases, cancer or other ailments.
Certified nutritionist and dietician Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., concurs that nuts are crucial for a healthy diet, especially for people over 50. “Nuts are the whole health package with proven disease-prevention benefits," says Dr. Brill.
Adds Andrea Paul, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at BoardVitals.com, “A nut-rich diet can boost longevity in many ways. They lead to weight loss, better sleep, improved, memory, a stronger immune system, and healthier, younger-looking skin. All of these contribute to a longer life, as do their benefits of reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.”
The New England Journal of Medicine study showed that as little as a handful—or approximately one ounce—of nuts per day could be the difference between living to 80 and living to 90. It doesn’t matter what type you eat, but consider mixing them together or alternating to avoid boredom. “Eating about a 1/4 to 1/3 cup of nuts per day is a good amount to reap the benefits,” says Dr. Paul. “But in general, it is best to eat nuts raw since high temperatures can destroy some of their nutritional components.” If you aren’t a fan of raw nuts, try dry-roasted, unsalted. Scroll through below to see which nuts are best for you:
The fountain of youth may not be full of water, but walnuts! Listen to this litany of anti-aging benefits: Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which significantly boost memory and recall. They reduce inflammation and promote more relaxed, dilated blood vessels, which can turn back the time on heart disease. “Walnuts make endothelium dysfunction (a condition of the inner arterial layer that instigates heart disease progression) more functional,” says Brill. “They also lower your cholesterol and make your blood less likely to clot.”
That perennial ballpark favorite, the peanut, is an anti-aging grand slam. These tasty legumes contain resveratrol (also found in red wine and dark chocolate), which is a potent antioxidant known to help slow aging and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Peanuts also contain folic acid and vitamin E for improved brain health,” says Dr. Paul. Prefer your peanuts in butter form? Go ahead and indulge in the all-natural variety (look for “no added sugar” on the label) and enjoy a spread rich in vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese.
These jumbo nuts are a staple in most bridge mixes, but they’re a nutritional powerhouse all their own. “Brazil nuts are high in selenium which helps the body produce illness-fighting antioxidants,” says Dr. Paul. They’re also rich in zinc, which helps in new skin production (this is particularly beneficial if you’re prone to cuts and scrapes, as skin becomes more fragile with age). And be sure to nudge that nut dish towards the men in your life: “Brazil nuts are also potentially helpful in preventing prostate cancer,” adds Dr. Paul.
Almonds have all of the nutritional benefits of their nutty brethren, but with the highest amount of healthy vegetable protein (6 grams per serving), they’re also the best for maintaining a healthy diet. “Almonds are one of the lower calorie nuts, with the highest amount of calcium,” says Dr. Paul. In addition to being waistline-friendly, they also boast a generous dosage of vitamin E, which Dr. Paul says "boosts memory and can potentially reduce cognitive decline."
You probably associate pecans with indulgences like pecan pie, and there’s a reason—they’re denser in fat and calories than most other nuts. But eaten in moderation (preferably raw) they are just as nutritious as other nuts, with individual health benefits of their own: “Pecans are especially high in beta-sitosterol, which can help with prostate health and reduce prostate and urinary symptoms in older men,” says Dr. Paul.
Looking to boost your arterial health? Get crackin’—pistachios, that is! “Pistachios contain l-arginine, which can make the lining of your arteries more flexible and potentially reduce heart attack and stroke risk,” says Dr. Paul. Additionally, pistachios are lower in calories, and since most of them have to be shelled before eating, they help pace your eating and moderate your digestion.
While you usually don’t think of pine nuts in the traditional snacking sense, they’re still a nutrient-rich tree nut that can significantly help lower bad LDL cholesterol. “Pine nuts contain lots of manganese, which is an important co-factor for one of the body's most powerful antioxidants,” says Dr. Paul. Even better? They’re the base ingredient for pesto sauce, so it’s simple to spoon them into your diet.
Now that you know all about nuts’ nutritional benefits, you’re ready to indulge, right? Great—but go easy: Nuts are nutrient-dense, but they’re also calorie-dense. Instead of just adding them to your diet, use nuts as a swap. Use them to replace empty calories in your diet (such as candy bars, sweets, breads, crackers, and chips). “Nuts have been shown to help with weight control as their high fiber and protein content will help fill you up—not out!” says Brill. “Cut back on saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, then add in the healthy fats from the nuts.”
Nuts are always a great choice for a grab-and-go healthy snack. But if you’re looking for some more creative ideas, consider the following:
- Go Greek. “Enjoy a fat-free Greek yogurt topped with a little honey and some crushed nuts and savor a nutritious, satisfyingly sweet snack,” recommends Brill.
- Kick up your salads. No matter what type of salad you’re serving up, nuts always make a crunchy, delicious and unexpected garnish.
- Dessert nut. While it’s not necessarily the healthiest way to incorporate nuts into your diet, candied nuts are still healthy alternative to other sweets. Try them baked with a little brown sugar, or rolled in cocoa powder.
- Crunchy crusts. Forget the bread crumbs! Try crushed up almonds or walnuts instead. They’ll give you the same satisfying crunchy crust while adding a nutritional punch.
- Sideline ‘em. You can never go wrong by adding nuts. Toss them in your stir fry, vegetable side dishes, brown rice pilaf; no matter the dish, an addition of nuts will add flavor—and nutrition—to your favorite dishes.
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