PhotoLots of people think healthful eating involves only unfamiliar foods that they don't find appealing. Think tofu and kale. But how about peanuts? Everybody likes peanuts and a recent study finds that almost everyone seems to benefit from them and other nuts, at least when it comes to heart health.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Shanghai Cancer Institute examined the association between nut consumption and death rates among low-income and racially diverse populations.

They found that, just as in previous studies of affluent white populations, eating peanuts was associated with fewer deaths, especially from heart disease. The study was published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

"Nuts are rich in nutrients, such as unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, phenolic antioxidants, arginine and other phytochemicals. All of them are known to be beneficial to cardiovascular health, probably through their anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and endothelial function maintenance properties," said Xiao-Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., associate director for Global Health at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, senior author of the study.

This study was the first to discover that all races -- blacks, whites, and Asians alike -- could potentially increase heart health by eating nuts and peanuts.

"In our study, we found that peanut consumption was associated with reduced total mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality in a predominantly low-income black and white population in the U.S., and among Chinese men and women living in Shanghai," Shu said.

This study was based on three large ongoing cohort studies. Participants included over 70,000 Americans of African and European descent who were mostly low-income, and over 130,000 Chinese.

Peanut consumption was associated with decreased total mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality (i.e., 17%-21% reduction in total mortality, and 23%-38% reduction in cardiovascular mortality for the highest quartile intake group compared to the lowest quartile group) across all three racial/ethnic groups, among both men and women, and among individuals from low-SES groups.

Because peanuts are much less expensive than tree nuts, as well as more widely available to people of all races and all socioeconomic backgrounds, increasing peanut consumption may provide a potentially cost-efficient approach to improving cardiovascular health, Shu said.

"The data arise from observational epidemiologic studies, and not randomized clinical trials, and thus we cannot be sure that peanuts per se were responsible for the reduced mortality observed," said William Blot, Ph.D., associate director for Cancer Prevention, Control and Population-based Research at VICC and a co-author of the study.

He did note that "the findings from this new study, however, reinforce earlier research suggesting health benefits from eating nuts, and thus are quite encouraging."


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