Have you heard the news? Nuts will save your life. Literally. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has analyzed nut consumption in nearly 175,000 health professionals over a span of 30 years. They found a 20% reduction in death from any cause in people who ate nuts every day. Twenty. percent. Let that sink in for a moment. Twenty percent lower incidence of heart disease. Of diabetes. Of cancer. Respiratory disease. Neurodegenerative disease. Stroke. Even infection. (How do nuts protect you from infection? Who knows?)
Normally, I would be skeptical of such a report. I’d assume confounding factors of lifestyle, diet, socioeconomic status. And, indeed, there do seem to be known health-improving factors that come part and parcel with nut consumption: in the study, nut eaters were less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise, more likely to eat fruits & vegetables and take multivitamins. More likely to be health nuts, as it were.
But if I may wonk out for a minute: 175,000 subjects (give or take). Two highly respected prospective cohort studies (the Nurse’s Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study). Over 3 million person-years worth of data. And the New England Journal of Medicine, the holy grail of peer-reviewed medical research. There might be something to this.
Interestingly, despite eating fat-laden nuts every day, in this study nut consumption was associated with less weight gain, as compared to non-nut eaters. In other studies, increased nut consumption was associated with reduced waist circumference, less weight gain, and a decreased risk of obesity. Also interesting, nut eaters tended to consume more alcohol, and about the same amount of red or processed meat as their non-nut eating counterparts. More nuts, more booze, same amount of meat = 20% lower risk of death. Where do I sign up?
So what makes nuts the magical, crunchy-salty fountain of youth? Who knows? They are nutrient-dense superfoods after all, packed full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytosterols and essential fatty acids. Perhaps there is something in nuts, some compound or combination of compounds, that helps to regulate metabolism, boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health. Perhaps, when you are eating nuts, you are not eating other things: potato chips, vending machine snacks, stale bagels from the morning’s meeting. Perhaps, at the end of the day, eating nuts helps you to become a Nut Eater: someone who eats more fruits & vegetables, who doesn’t smoke but does exercise, someone who is lean and healthy and, well, 20% more likely to live a long life.
So: buy a bag of cashews. Take 10 minutes to toss them, warmly toasted, in a few herbs and spices. Set ’em out on the counter for nibbles, while everyone is waiting on the Thanksgiving bird. Encourage people to eat up. Give thanks for the many, many more Thanksgivings to come.
- 1 lb raw cashews
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 tsp flaky sea salt
- ¼ tsp red chile flakes
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread nuts on a baking sheet: toast, shaking once or twice, until fragrant and just slightly colored, about 10 – 15 minutes. Alternatively, toast cashews, shaking constantly, in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the butter, sugar, rosemary, salt, chile and cayenne. Add warm cashews, toss well to mix, until nuts are well coated. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yields about 1 quart spiced nuts.
- For the sugar-adverse, yes, you can substitute maple syrup or honey.
- For the cholesterol-adverse, yes, you can substitute olive oil or another oil. I do think the butter adds some flavor and richness to the nuts, so choose an oil that is good quality and good tasting.
Uncovered, at room temperature, for several days. Re-crisp or re-warm in a 375 degree F oven for 10 minutes if desired.
Holidays. Or any day.