Nosh on Nuts to Avoid Inflammation
When you’re trying to adopt good eating habits, chances are you are focusing on keeping calorie counts low. Maybe you’re also considering limiting your carbohydrate intake or getting your fats from healthier sources. It’s likely, however, that you’re not thinking about what foods may affect inflammation in your body. But you probably should be because inflammation has been linked to a number of serious diseases. And if you would like to keep inflammation at bay, new research has a culinary suggestion for you: eat more nuts.
The study, which was conducted at the Harvard Medical School in Boson, Massachusetts, found that consuming a serving of nuts several times a week may help decrease inflammation in the body.1 The scientists pored over data generated from 5,013 subjects in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS), two long-term investigations focused on various areas of health.
Every four years, these participants answered regular surveys regarding the types of food they were eating. The time period analyzed ran from 1986 through 1990 for the NHS volunteers and from 1990 through 1994 for the HPFS volunteers. All of the subjects had no history of either heart disease or diabetes at the beginning of the trial. Over the last few years of the research period, blood was drawn from each subject. It was evaluated for three specific biomarkers of inflammation, C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and TNFR2.
A serving of nuts was defined as one ounce—essentially equal to a handful of nuts—or one tablespoon of peanut butter. The participants who reported consuming nuts at least five times a week were found to have 20 percent lower levels of CRP compared to their peers who said they never or rarely consumed nuts. In addition, the nut-eating volunteers had levels of IL-6 that were 16 percent below those of the non-nut eaters. For the third of the biomarkers examined, however, no association could be drawn between nut intake and lower levels of TNFR2. The outcomes remained consistent even after the scientists controlled for influential factors including other dietary habits, physical activity level, weight, and smoking.
No nut in particular was determined to be more beneficial than others. However, peanut butter was found to have no effect at all on biomarkers indicating inflammation. This suggests that eating nuts in a more natural state is what provides advantages. It may be due to the negative impact of the sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil in many brands of commercial peanut butter, or it may be that the raw nut, including the skin, offers antioxidants and other nutrients that are lost during processing. Or it just might be the fact that peanuts are not actually nuts; they’re legumes—the same family as beans and peas. And in this study, when it came to reducing inflammation, only actual nuts demonstrated a benefit.
This is not the first time the health benefits of nuts has been brought to light. Consuming nuts regularly was shown in a 2013 study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts to offer some protection from cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and early mortality.2 It pays to eat a selection of nuts, too. Various types of nuts are rich in different nutrients, but there are nuts that are great sources of fiber, selenium, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, among many others.
All of these nutrients that nuts contain likely go a long way toward explaining why those who consume nuts on an almost daily basis might have lower levels of inflammation. The plentiful antioxidants found in nuts are known to fight free radicals, helping to prevent the cell damage that contributes to numerous health issues. And inflammation is a factor in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What it comes down to is that you will reap benefits from eating nuts, and it’s even better to consume them as a substitute for less healthy foods. The investigators evaluated what type of effect swapping out three servings of red meat, processed meat, eggs, or refined grains for three servings of nuts per week would have, and determined that CRP and IL-6 levels both dropped significantly.
So keep a bowl of nuts nearby for snacking instead of grabbing a bag of chips. Or add nuts to a meal to cut back or cut out the meat. You’ll enjoy their satisfying crunch even more knowing they’re doing something great for your health as well.
- 1. Yu, Zhi; et al. "Associations between nut consumption and inflammatory biomarkers." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 27 July 2016. Accessed 31 August 2016. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/07/26/ajcn.116.134205.abstract?sid=434b759a-70df-4144-ac04-80aa0be46669.
- 2. Bao, Ying; et al. "Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality." The New England Journal of Medicine. 21 November 2013. Accessed 1 September 2016. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1307352.