Why those with diabetes should add nuts to their diets

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center

A tasty treat in your pantry or on grocery store shelves could be key to lowering your risk for heart disease — especially for people with diabetes, according to a 2019 study.

The study in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal, found that people with diabetes who ate at least five small servings of tree nuts a week were 17 percent less likely to develop heart disease. Researchers followed patients from a younger age in their life and followed up with them over time to determine whether they developed heart disease.

The results are very interesting and play into doctors’ understanding of how diet plays a key role in a patient’s risk or avoidance of cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Patrick Bering, a cardiologist at the MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“I think the findings are very exciting and add to our understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet — especially for those patients who have already developed diabetes,” Dr. Bering said.

Nuts can be a great option for anyone to eat because they are “jam-packed with lots of quality nutrients,” Dr. Bering said.

“They have unsaturated fatty acids, they have plant chemicals that are called phytochemicals, they have fiber, certain vitamins including vitamin E and folic acid; they also have important minerals for our body like calcium, potassium and magnesium.” he said.

However, not all nuts are created equal, Dr. Bering pointed out. Tree nuts, like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts, grow above ground and have more high-quality nutrients that are beneficial. The Mediterranean Diet is an option that incorporates a lot of tree nuts and, as a result, populations who adhere to that diet often have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, Dr. Bering said.

Tree nuts may do more than just help reduce the risk for heart disease — they can help those with diabetes in other ways, too.

“The minerals, fibers and chemicals are more likely to provide anti-inflammatory effects, and inflammation in diabetes is one of the key driving forces of a lot of the complications in the eyes, in the kidneys, and the vasculature,” Dr. Bering said.

While nuts have many nutritional benefits, it’s important to be aware of portion size and salt content. One serving of nuts is about a third of a cup; if you eat more than that, you could be overeating, Dr. Bering said.

Also, some pre-salted or pre-flavored nuts are high in sodium. Dr. Bering recommends those with diabetes or kidney or heart disease problems get nuts without salt and add in some unsalted flavoring on their own.

Those with diabetes can take other precautions to reduce heart disease risk as well, such as avoiding ultra-processed foods. Those are the foods that “often have the worst health effects” and contain artificial sweeteners and can lead to adverse cardiovascular health or obesity-related illnesses, Dr. Bering said.

Diabetes patients seeking help should consider MedStar Washington Hospital Center because of its “comprehensive and passionate team that loves to serve the community,” Dr. Bering said.

“We have experts in every level of care from primary care to preventative care, as well as emergency care,” he said. “I’m very honored to work with my colleagues who inspire me every day, but most inspiring to all of us are our interactions with patients whom we serve.”

Read more and listen to a podcast with Dr. Bering here.

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