Go Nuts If You Have Diabetes
While we should all strive to make nutritious dietary choices, people with type 2 diabetes have to be extra careful about what they eat. Too many sugar-sweetened or processed foods and drinks can raise blood sugar levels and result in symptoms like excessive thirst and blurred vision and potentially add up to long-term damage. It is essential for those with diabetes to base meals on lean sources of protein, beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And new research suggests that adding certain nuts to that list might be a wise health choice as well.
The study, which was conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, found that consuming tree nuts frequently is associated with a lower risk of heart disease in those with type 2 diabetes.1 These results are based on an investigation that included 16,217 men and women who had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The subjects were tracked for approximately 20 years, in some cases before they developed the condition.
Throughout the two decades of follow-up, 3,336 of the participants developed heart disease or had a stroke. In addition, 5,682 died in this time span, and close to 1,700 of these deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease or stroke. When the researchers compared the volunteers’ medical records against questionnaires they completed every two to four years on their eating habits, nut consumption stood out for its relation to fewer heart problems.
With one ounce defined as a serving size, the data showed that people who ate five or more servings of tree nuts each week had a roughly 20 percent lower risk of developing heart disease compared to their peers who consumed nuts less than once a month. What’s more, that same weekly habit of eating five or more nut servings was also linked to an approximately 33 percent reduction in risk of early mortality from cardiovascular disease as well as from other causes. And further increasing nut intake was even better, with every additional serving of nuts decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke by three percent and reducing the risk of dying from a heart issue by six percent.
Interestingly, it was only tree nuts, not peanuts, which are legumes that grow in the ground, that appeared to confer these health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Now, it should be noted that in the botanical world, a nut is a dry, hard-shelled fruit. Anything that has a fleshy outer layer like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are technically not nuts, but seeds in a different kind of fruit called a drupe. In the culinary world, and in terms of the study, that technicality doesn’t matter. If it’s hard and grew in a tree, it’s a tree nut, and it’s healthy.
The study was not designed to prove cause and effect, so we can’t say for sure that the nut consumption was directly responsible for these drops in heart-related risks. But it does offer evidence that a strong association exists between the two. And that makes sense, since nuts may contribute to the stabilization of blood sugar levels, and help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, which may explain why they are particularly beneficial to those with diabetes. Nuts were also shown in a 2016 study at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts to decrease inflammation in the body, which can help protect blood vessels and prevent cardiovascular problems.
While the current research was specific to people with type 2 diabetes, it would stand to reason that the factors that make tree nuts good for them would also apply to those with type 1 diabetes as well as people who do not have any form of diabetes. In fact, a 2013 study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts found that people who consume nuts may obtain some protection from cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and early mortality. In other words, all of us could benefit from adding an extra serving of tree nuts to our diet every day. Nuts offer a lot of healthy nutrients, such as selenium, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s important to eat a good variety.
Since a serving size is small, it is easy to incorporate them into your diet every day. Pack a little bag for a protein-filled afternoon snack, add a handful as a delicious salad topper, or sprinkle nuts on a fish or chicken dish to give it extra flavor and a satisfying crunch.
- 1. Liu, Gang; et al. "Nut Consumption in Relation to Cardiovascular Disease Incidence and Mortality among Patients with Diabetes Mellitus." Circulation Research. 19 February 2019. Accessed 27 February 2019. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.314316.