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The Global Burden of Disease Study, the most comprehensive and systematic analysis of the causes of death ever undertaken, involved nearly 500 researchers from more than 300 institutions in 50 countries and examined nearly 100,000 data sources. The study noted which foods, if added to the diet, might save lives. Eating more vegetables could potentially save 1.8 million lives. How about more nuts and seeds? 2.5 million lives. The study calculated that not eating enough nuts and seeds was the third-leading dietary risk factor for death and disability in the world, killing more people than processed meat consumption, and potentially leading to the deaths of 15 times more people than all those who die from overdoses of heroin, crack cocaine, and all other illicit drugs combined.

PREDIMED, one of the largest interventional dietary trials, randomized more than 7,000 men and women at high cardiovascular risk into different diet groups and followed them for years. One group received a free half-pound of nuts every week—the equivalent of eating about an extra half-ounce of nuts daily compared to what they had been consuming before the study even started. Without making major shifts in their diet, just the minor tweak of adding nuts appeared to cut stroke risk in half. Additionally, regardless of which group subjects had been assigned, those eating more nuts each day had a significantly lower risk of dying prematurely overall.

Which nut is healthiest? Normally, my answer is whichever you’ll eat regularly, but walnuts really do seem to take the lead. They have among the highest antioxidant and omega-3 levels, and beat out other nuts in vitro in terms of suppressing cancer cell growth.

One study found that a single serving of Brazil nuts has been shown to lower your cholesterol levels faster than statin drugs and keep them down even a month after that single meal, and by eating three to four handfuls of pistachios a day for three weeks, men in one study reported significant improvement in blood flow through the penis, accompanied by significantly firmer erections.

Nuts are high in calories, but they can be a lifeline without expanding your waistline, as nut consumption has not been found to lead to the expected weight gain. They may also extend your lifeline: Your life span may be increased by two years by eating nuts regularly—one handful (or about a quarter of a cup) five or more days a week. Just that one simple and delicious act alone may extend your life.

Image Credit: Creatas Images / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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