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Snack on Nuts to Reduce Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death

Data retrieved over 17 years from 21,454 male doctors in the U.S. Physicians’ Health Study suggests that those docs who ate an ounce of nuts at least twice a week reduced their risk of sudden cardiac death by 47% and their risk of death from coronary heart disease by 30% compared to their peers who never ate nuts.

Nuts’ heart-protective benefits held even after researchers made adjustments to control for known cardiac risk factors, such as age, and potentially protective factors, such as aspirin intake, supplement usage and fish consumption.

Not only does data from this study suggest that nut consumption among men is associated with a significantly reduced risk of sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease, but the relationship between nut consumption and sudden cardiac death is linear—the higher a man’s consumption of nuts, the larger the protective effect.

The results of this latest study, just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is consistent with previous epidemiological studies that also show the greatest benefit from consuming five or more servings (a serving = one ounce or a small handful) per week.

Not surprisingly, The Peanut Institute was quick to publicize these results. Although they are actually legumes, peanuts are categorized with other nuts when it comes to nutrition research and consumption patterns. In fact, according to the U.S.D.A. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 68% of the nuts eaten in the U.S. are peanuts and peanut butter.

A number of other large population studies, such as the Adventists Health Study, the Iowa Women's Health Study and the Harvard Nurses' Heath Study, all show cardioprotective benefits from nut and peanut consumption. In these studies, which unlike the U.S. Physicians’ Health Study examined the eating patterns of both men and women, the consistent finding has been that small, frequent servings of nuts, including peanuts and peanut butter, can reduce the risk of heart disease by 25-50%.

Practical Tips

Here are a few of the World’s Healthiest Foods quick serving ideas to help you reap nuts’ cardiovascular benefits:

  • Make a delightful cold rice salad with almonds, fresh garden peas and currants.
  • For a healthy twist on a campfire favorite, cut unpeeled bananas lengthwise midway through the flesh. Spread the banana open enough to place peanut butter and chopped figs inside, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil and grill on the BBQ or, for an after school treat, bake for 10 minutes in a 325° oven.
  • Healthy sauté cashews with shrimp, basil and green beans for a delightful Thai inspired dish.
  • Purée walnuts, cooked lentils and your favorite herbs and spices in a food processor. Add enough olive or flax oil so that it achieves a dip-like consistency.

To learn more about the nuts that meet the stringent criteria for inclusion among the World’s Healthiest Foods, simply click on the highlighted name in the following list: almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts. For some exceptionally quick, easy and delicious recipes featuring these nuts, click on the Recipe Assistant, select any of the nuts on the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing the nut chosen will appear immediately below.

Research Summary

Although the exact mechanism is not yet clear, nuts’ cardioprotective effects may be due in part to their unsaturated fatty acid content, particularly when they replace other snack foods high saturated and trans-fats, and refined carbohydrates, in the diet.

Research conducted at Penn State University in 1999 evaluated the effect of diets that included 2-3 servings daily of peanuts or peanut butter, which is rich in monounsaturated fats, on cardiovascular risk. Researchers found that total and LDL (bad) cholesterol were lowered by 11% and 14%, respectively. The diets that contained higher amounts of monounsaturated fats were found to have an additional benefit of maintaining HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lowering triglycerides, two other important risk factors for heart disease. Overall, the peanut-rich diets reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21% compared to the standard American diet, aptly given the acronym SAD, whereas a low-fat diet reduced the risk by only 12%.

In addition to their beneficial fats, nuts are packed with numerous other heart-protective nutrients. According to our stringent World’s Healthiest Foods criteria:

References: Albert CM, Gaziano JM, Willett WC, Manson JE. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the physicians' health study. Arch Intern Med 2002 Jun 24;162(12):1382-7. Kris-Etherton PM, Pearson TA, Wan Y, Hargrove RL, Moriarty K, Fishell V, Etherton TD. High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Dec;70(6):1009-15.

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