Saturday, November 23, 2013

New England Journal of Medicine: Going Nuts for Nuts: Another Break from CLL, but for Healthy Reasons

Any casual reader of my blog knows that I am a committed vegan.

I love what I eat. Often only raw veggies, but sometimes a plain salad just isn't deeply satisfying. But add some nuts and I get some crunch, some grit, some surprises and some increased nutrition to boot.

Nuts are my "meat".

I just bought 20 pounds of raw organic nuts: cashews, brazil nuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia, and pine nuts which are really seeds. Actually all nuts are fruits that have a hard shell and a seed.

Though they vary from nut to nut, most are rich in an antioxidants and other nutrients. Walnuts are especially high in the healthy omega-3 and have been shown to lower our LDL cholesterol. Pistachios are full of lutein and zeaxanthin that may help prevent age related macular degeneration.  Each one has its set of particular nutritional assets, and mixed together are delicious.

See this sweet article for a review of some of the nutritions in a few common varieties.

A special shout out and warning to fans like me of brazil nuts ( BTW, more come from Bolivia than Brazil). The USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25 tells that as few as 6-8 brazil nuts may contain as much as 10 times the daily recommended dose of selenium, though the amount may vary widely. Getting the right amount of selenium is healthful and I believe may lower cancer risk, but my levels were toxic when I was eating too many tasty brazil nuts. I now restrict myself to 5 or less a day and occasionally check my blood selenium level.

I try to eat only raw nuts because they generally have better nutritional profiles, especially in regard to their fatty acid contents. (Except for chestnuts that only I eat when singing Christmas carols and after they have been roasting in an open fire.)

And I choose organic when possible. And never salted or honey coated or spiced or anything. Just raw organic nuts.

I avoid peanuts (not actually a nut but a legume and schizocarpic to boot as I recall from high school biology) because the raw ones are at risk for aflotoxin, a potent poison from the mold aspergilllus flavus that likes to grow on peanuts if they are not properly stored.

I also avoid raw almonds. "Raw" farmed almonds in California may not be actually raw but "pasteurized" usually with the toxic propylene oxide or PPO to prevent a recurrence of the past Salmonella outbreaks. And besides too many of the raw almonds taste awful with a sickly bittersweet aftertaste that I have heard described as "Amaretto gone bad".  Not sure why, but spitting out a foul mouthful of nuts is not always possible and is never pleasant, so I sadly just skip them.

The remaining members of the nut are my boon companions when I wander, mixed and packed with great care right next to my other precious travel commodities including my medications and my organic green teabags in my carry-on. I would be lost or more actually hungry without them, especially in the southern US where being a vegan is pretty similar to being some exotic visitor from a faraway planet.

There are too often my breakfast and lunch and late snack snack when I am far from home. They are my manna.

So I was very pleased when the prestigious and very conservative New England Journal of Medicine published this:


"In two large, independent cohorts of nurses and other health professionals, the frequency of nut consumption was inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality, independently of other predictors of death."

Read the whole article here.

The news about reducing vascular disease was not a surprise, but the lower risk of cancer and all cause mortality was a happy finding.

As with all retrospective studies, there is the potential for many confounders. Do nuts eaters tend to avoid more junk food, do they make better health and food choices overall and that is the reason for their improved survival?

The researchers tried to control for some of that Again, quoting from the research:

"Multivariate analyses were adjusted for age; race; body-mass index; level of physical activity; status with regard to smoking, whether a physical examination was performed for screening purposes, current multivitamin use, and current aspirin use; status with regard to a family history of diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, or cancer; status with regard to a history of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, or hypercholesterolemia; intake of total energy, alcohol, red or processed meat, fruits, and vegetables; and, in women, menopausal status and hormone use. "

Moreover, the fact that there was a linear inverse relation between nut consumption and mortality indicates that it is a valid correlation, if not necessarily a cause and effect.

The numbers were significant too.

The hazard ratio for those us eating nuts 5 x a week was 0.83 compared to those who never had a tasty nut touch their palate. That means almost a reduction of 1/5 in the chance of dying during the study period.

The reductions for heart disease was even bigger, 29% and for kidney disease it was a whopping 39%. Cancer deaths were cut by respectable 11%.

I fully expect that soon we will be able to buy nut extracts to add to our juices or cereals. Or nut pills to avoid all the hard work of buying and chewing those delicious seeds.

Don't fall for it. We have proved over and over again that there a huge danger in assuming that eating the essence or extract of a particular food is the same as eating the food itself.

A de-orderized garlic capsule is not garlic.

Vitamin C is not OJ is not an orange.

Nut extracts are not nuts.

Remember my mantra. Stay close to the soil. The more packaged and processed, the worse it is for you.

Enjoy your simple raw nuts, guilt free

I sure do.

As I have said before, I don't for a minute believe eating nuts or any particular diet will cure me or anyone else of cancer, but I do believe that conscious eating can keep us all stronger for the health challenges we face.

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