From A to W – almonds to walnuts – there are a lot of nuts out there to enjoy and all can play a role in a cancer-protective diet. AICR research finds there is not enough evidence to show that nuts by themselves lower cancer risk. Yet emerging studies suggest nuts have a role in prevention.
Here’s the latest on how these nutritional nuggets link to lower risk – and how many you want to munch on throughout the day.
Two new studies involving nuts and cancer were published last month. In one, walnut-eating mice developed fewer colon tumors than mice on a standard diet. The study was supported in part by AICR and the California Walnut Commission.
The second study looked at men and prostate cancer. Among about 47,000 men followed over 26 years, those diagnosed with prostate cancer and eating nuts five or more times per week had a lower risk of dying from the cancer compared to the men eating nuts once or less a month. There was no link with reduced incidence of prostate cancer. Here they were looking at tree nuts, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. The study was supported by the International Tree Nut Council.
Last year, another study found that people eating nuts at least four times a week had lower risk of cancer overall compared to those eating nuts less than once a week. This study looked at all types of nuts, including peanuts – yes, not technically a nut.
Nuts are packed with protein, fiber, minerals and phytochemicals. Folate, copper, vitamin E and magnesium are a few of the nut compounds studied for their role in cancer prevention. They also have unsaturated mono- and polyunsaturated fats, a healthier alternative to the saturated fats in red meats.
The specific nutrients and fat content depends upon the nut. Walnuts, for example, contain relatively high amounts of omega-3 fats. Brazil nuts are brimming with selenium – you can get the entire Recommended Daily amount in one Brazil nut. Almonds and hazelnuts will give you plenty of vitamin E.
Even thought nuts have a healthy fat, those calories can add up quickly with too many. In general, a serving of nuts (one ounce) has about 160 to 200 calories.
If you haven’t looked at nut calories in a while, you have some good news. For a few nuts, the calories are not quite as many as once believed. First came the drop in pistachios (about 5 percent lower than previously thought); then in calorie content of almonds and walnuts, by about 20-30 percent. All these studies were partially supported by nut organizations.
Nuts are easy snacking and work well in so many foods, it can be pretty easy to overeat. That's a problem because staying a healthy weight is important for cancer prevention, as well as for overall health.
To avoid gaining weight, substitute nuts for less-healthy foods. Keep the focus on what you eat everyday – it’s that overall pattern that can lower cancer risk and boost health.