A daily handful of Brazil, cashew or pistachios nuts slashes diabetics’ risk of a heart attack or stroke by a third, according to new research.
Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is the leading cause of illness and mortality in those with the common metabolic disorder.
A study found patients who ate an ounce of the snack food five days a week were 34 and 17 percent less likely to die from or develop the condition, respectively.
This would equate to about seven walnuts or 24 almonds, for instance – compared to those who ate less than a single serving a month.
Each additional serving per week of total nuts was linked with a six and three percent lower risk of CVD death or developing the condition, respectively
Tree nuts – which also include pine nuts, pecans, macadamias and hazelnuts – were the most protective.
Regular nut consumption also reduced the risk of coronary heart disease such as hardening of the arteries by 20 percent – and dying from any cause by 31 percent.
Lead author Dr Gang Liu, a nutritional scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, said: ‘Our findings provide new evidence that supports the recommendation of including nuts in healthy dietary patterns for the prevention of cardiovascular disease complications and premature deaths among individuals with diabetes.’
What’s more, even when people were in the habit of eating nuts before their diabetes diagnosis, adding more to their diet proved beneficial probably at any age or stage.
Compared with people who did not change their nut-eating habits they were 25 and 27 percent less likely to die from CVD or suffer a premature death, respectively.
They also reduced their risk of developing CVD or coronary heart disease by 11 and 15 percent, respectively.
Each additional serving per week of total nuts was linked with a six and three per cent lower risk of CVD death or developing the condition, respectively.
Dr Liu said: ‘It seems never too late to improve diet and lifestyle after diagnosis among individuals with type 2 diabetes.’
The improvements remained even after taking other factors into account including gender, smoking habits and BMI (body mass index).
Type 2 diabetes is associated with an increased risk for high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, and is a widespread public health problem affecting more than 30 million Americans.
Nuts are brimful with nutrients including unsaturated fatty acids, phytochemicals, fibre, vitamins such as vitamin E and folate, as well as minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium.
They are said to help stave off a range of illnesses in healthy individuals including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
But little is known about the benefits, if any, they may offer people who already have type 2 diabetes, and face a greater risk for heart health complications.
So Dr Liu and colleagues used self-reported diet questionnaires from 16,217 men and women before and after they were diagnosed, asking them specifically about their consumption of both peanuts and tree nuts over a period of several years.
During follow-up, there were 3,356 cases of CVD – 2,567 of coronary heart disease and 789 strokes – and 5,682 deaths including 1,663 from CVD and 1,297 from cancer.
All kinds of nuts boosted the heart, with tree nuts showing the best results.
Peanuts are actually legumes because, unlike tree nuts, they grow underground. But even small amounts of any of the nuts had a good effect.
The researchers say nuts appear to boost blood sugar control, blood pressure, metabolism of fats, inflammation and blood vessel wall function.
Also, tree nuts may offer more benefits because of they contain higher levels of nutrients than peanuts, they explained.
Dr Prakash Deedwania, of the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, Fresno, who is a member of the Know Diabetes by Heart science advisory committee, said: ‘Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and a major cause of heart attacks, strokes and disability for people living with type 2 diabetes.
‘Efforts to understand the link between the two conditions are important to prevent cardiovascular complications of type 2 diabetes and help people make informed choices about their health.’
He said the findings are very encouraging because the simple daily dietary habit of eating tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios, can have such a profound effect on coronary events, cardiac death and total mortality.
Dr Deedwania added: ‘They further add to the growing evidence that certain lifestyle changes, regular exercise and a prudent diet can have significant favourable impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease and risk of cardiac events in patients with diabetes.’