Handful of nuts a day can help keep the doctor away, research shows

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A handful of nuts a day can help to keep the doctor - and the undertaker - away, research has shown.

People consuming at least 20g of nuts daily were less likely to develop potentially fatal conditions such as heart disease and cancer, the study found.

Being nuts about nuts reduced the risk of heart disease by nearly 30%, the risk of cancer by 15%, and the risk of premature death by 22%.

The same amount of nuts - equivalent to a handful - was also associated with a halving of the risk of dying from a respiratory disease. Diabetes risk was cut by nearly 40%.

Study co-author Dagfinn Aune, from Imperial College London, said: "In nutritional studies, so far much of the research has been on the big killers such as heart diseases, stroke and cancer, but now we're starting to see data for other diseases.

"We found a consistent reduction in risk across many different diseases, which is a strong indication that there is a real underlying relationship between nut consumption and different health outcomes. It's quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food."

The team, whose findings appear in the journal BMC Medicine, analysed published data on more than 800,000 participants from around the world.

The study covered all kinds of tree nuts, such as hazelnuts and walnuts, as well as peanuts, which are technically legumes.

Mr Aune added: "Nuts and peanuts are high in fibre, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats - nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk and which can reduce cholesterol levels.

"Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts, are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk.

"Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time."