In many parts of the world, as the population ages and gets heavier, more of us are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Along with good nutrition, moving our bodies regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight, there may be one particular food we should be eating. The humble walnut may be one additional way to keep type 2 diabetes at bay.
Watching walnuts, seeing better health
Researchers collected information on diet and other health habits from 137,956 women, and followed this group for approximately ten years to see who developed type 2 diabetes. The women were 35 to 77 years old, and none had diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at the beginning of the study. The researchers accounted for other factors that can affect risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including age, ethnicity, family history of diabetes, height and weight, tobacco and alcohol use, physical activity, menopausal status, use of hormones and multivitamins, and dietary intake of calories, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, red meat, coffee, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
During the ten-year study period, 5,930 women were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Compared with women who rarely or never ate walnuts, risk of developing diabetes was
4% lower in women who ate 1 to 3 servings of walnuts per month,
13% lower in women who ate 1 serving per week, and
24% lower in women who ate 2 or more servings per week.
Women who regularly ate other nuts and tree nuts also were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, however, most of this association was explained by body mass index—a measure of weight adjusted for height. In other words, nut eaters also tended to be slimmer, and this is the main reason why the women who ate nuts less frequently developed diabetes more often as a group.
Work in walnuts to improve health
This study is observational, so it cannot prove cause and effect. Still, the results agree with plenty of other research, which also suggests walnuts are a healthy food, and can help maintain a healthy body. Our tips can help you work walnuts into your routine:
Feast on healthy fat. Of all the nuts we commonly eat, only walnuts offer significant quantities of omega-3 fat. Plus, this study and others suggest that people who eat nuts are thinner than those who don’t.
Toast ‘em to taste ‘em. If you aren’t fond of the flavor of walnuts, try lightly toasting them in a pan on the stovetop, then sprinkle on salads, stir fries, pasta, and other favorite dishes. Toasting brings out walnuts’ sweet, mellow flavors.
Bring them to breakfast. Sprinkle a small handful of walnuts into cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt.
Snack smart. Nuts are portable, and filling, which may be one reason why people who eat them tend to be thinner. Keep a baggie of nuts and dried fruit in your purse or briefcase for an easy snack.
(J Nutr 2013; doi: 10.3945/jn.112.172171)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.