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Tree nuts linked to lower body weight, decreased type 2 diabetes risk: study

A large U.S. study has linked eating tree nuts with a lower body mass index and lower risk of type 2 diabetes. (Credit: Thinkstock)Go nuts — it's good for your health! A handful of nuts a day could keep you slim and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

By "a few," researchers mean more than a quarter ounce of tree nuts — so a small handful of almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts. Sorry, your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches weren't included in this study.

"One of the more interesting findings was the fact that tree nut consumers had lower body weight, as well as lower body mass index and waist circumference compared to nonconsumers," states the study's lead author, Carol O'Neil, professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.

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"It shows small differences," says Sharon Zeiler, dietitian and senior manager of diabetes education and nutrition at the Canadian Diabetes Association, "but as we know from diabetes, small differences can make a big difference."

The daily dose of tree nuts was linked to higher levels of the so-called "good cholesterol," high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, as well as lower levels of the inflammation-related C-reactive protein. The study included 13,292 adults in the United States who participated in National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 1999 to 2004.

Tree-nut consumers were also found to have a five percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndromes, which increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and stroke.

"As a dietitian, I know that nuts are a good source of protein, fiber and a lot of essential fatty acids — walnuts especially," says Zeiler. But she warns that they are only good in moderation.

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"The thing for consumers to think about," she warns, "is that while nuts are very good for you, they're also very high in calories. They contain 'good' fat, but they contain a substantial amount of fat."

So a small handful --  maybe six or eight walnut halves, or a dozen almonds -- might be good for your health. And for those of you who might be allergic to nuts, you can substitute with things like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, lentils and tofu, she suggests.

Skeptical readers should note that funding for the study came from the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation.

Unsurprisingly, the executive director of that non-profit organization, Maureen Ternus, states that "we need to educate people about the importance of including tree nuts in the diet."

So, go nuts! Just don't overdo it.

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