Just half a handful of nuts a day can cut your risk of dying from a string of major diseases, a new study reveals.
The study confirms a link between peanut and nut intake and lower mortality rates, but found no protective effect for peanut butter.
Researchers found that 10 grams of nuts or peanuts per day, around half a handful led to a lower risk of dying from respiratory disease, neurodegenerative disease, and diabetes, as well as cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
The effects are equal in men and women.
The researchers from Maastricht University in Holland found peanuts show at least as strong reductions in mortality as tree nuts, but peanut butter is not associated with mortality.
The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, was carried out within the Netherlands Cohort Study, which has been running since 1986 among more than 120,000 Dutch men and women, aged 55 to 69.
Nut consumption was assessed by asking about portion size and frequency of intake of peanuts, other nuts, and peanut butter.
The researchers analysed the relationship with overall and cause-specific mortality since 1986.
The associations between nuts and peanut intake and cardiovascular death confirm earlier results from American and Asian studies that were often focused on cardiovascular diseases.
However, the new study found that mortality due to cancer, diabetes, respiratory, and neurodegenerative diseases was also lowered among people who eat peanuts and nuts.
Project leader Professor Piet van den Brandt said: “It was remarkable that substantially lower mortality was already observed at consumption levels of 15 grams of nuts or peanuts on average per day, half a handful.
“A higher intake was not associated with further reduction in mortality risk.
“This was also supported by a meta-analysis of previously published studies together with the Netherlands Cohort Study, in which cancer and respiratory mortality showed this same dose-response pattern.”
He said peanuts and tree nuts both contain various compounds such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, various vitamins, fibre, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds, that possibly contribute to the lower death rates.
However, besides peanuts, peanut butter also contains added components such as salt and vegetable oils.
In the past, it has been shown that peanut butter contains trans fatty acids and therefore the composition of peanut butter is different from peanuts.
Prof van den Brandt said the adverse health effects of salt and trans fatty acids could inhibit the protective effects of peanuts.