Benefits of Eating Nuts for Older Adults

Nuts are great for older people.

Though they’re small in size, nuts of all types pack a nutritional wallop — and they provide a number of health benefits for aging people. Research suggests eating nuts can lower your risk of cancer and protect your heart health.

For example, a meta-analysis published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2020 concluded that eating more nuts was associated with reduced risk of developing cancer, especially cancers from the digestive system.”

Another meta-analysis that looked at 19 studies related to nut intake and cardiovascular disease, published in 2019 in the journal Nutrition Reviews, concluded there is “a beneficial role of nut consumption in reducing the incidence of, and mortality from, different (cardiovascular disease) outcomes.”

Here are six ways nuts help protect your health as you age:

1. Healthier heart

When it comes to heart health, you’ve probably heard that you should limit the amount of saturated fat you consume, says Courtney Barth, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic. Older people in particular need to safeguard their heart health.

That’s because people age 65 and older, according to the National Institute on Aging, are much more likely to suffer serious cardiovascular-related health problems, including:

Heart attack.

Stroke.

Heart disease.

There are two main types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in animal foods and tropical oils, such as meat, whole dairy foods like cream, butter and cheese, coconut oil and palm oil. Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, seed oils, nuts, fish and avocados. Research suggests that consuming saturated fats can elevate your levels of “bad” cholesterol, which can increase your risks of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends consuming a diet limiting your consumption of foods with saturated fat to 5% to 6% of your daily calories. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat — or about 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

You should generally limit or avoid saturated fats, which can be found in such foods as:

— Bacon.

— Beef.

— Cheeses made from whole milk.

— Full-fat yogurts.

Processed foods, like snack chips.

Whole milk.

— Coconut oil.

Consuming foods with unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can help lower your “bad” cholesterol. Nuts contain unsaturated fats, which research suggests help:

Lower cholesterol.

Reduce inflammation.

— Protect heart health.

— Reduce joint pain.

— Keep your mind sharp.

2. Sharper mind?

Consuming nuts — particularly walnuts — can help keep your mind sharp, Barth says. Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of unsaturated fat. Research suggests this type of fat is associated with reducing inflammation in different parts of the body, including the brain.

A meta-analysis published in the journal Public Health Nutrition in 2020 found “an association between walnut consumption and cognitive function in older adults.” The research suggests that individuals who consume 1 ounce (about ¼ cup) of walnuts on a daily basis had greater cognitive baseline scores compared with people who didn’t. Because these were observational studies, it’s not clear whether eating walnuts caused the participants to have a sharper mind. The research, however, did not show that eating walnuts protected participants against age-related cognitive decline.

3. Safeguard eye health

Research suggests that inadequate vitamin and mineral intake can increase the risk of retinal degradation, which leads to age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. This is the number one cause of vision loss in adults over 50, according to the American Optometric Association. Nuts are rich in a number of nutrients that are good for eye health, says Kaylee Jacks, a registered dietitian with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Dallas.

These nutrients include:

— Omega-3 fatty acids. Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Nuts high in omega-3 fatty acids include hazelnuts, walnuts and peanuts (which are technically considered a legume).

Vitamin C. Studies suggest that vitamin C helps blunt the progression of age-related macular degeneration, a condition that can lead to blindness. Nuts high in vitamin C include hazelnuts and pistachios.

Vitamin E. This vitamin shields cells in the eyes from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that break down healthy tissue, according to the AOA. Nuts especially high in vitamin E include almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts.

Zinc. This trace mineral plays “a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes,” according to the AOA. Poor night vision and cloudy cataracts are eye problems that have been associated with zinc deficiency. Nuts high in zinc include Brazil nuts, cashews and pine nuts.

Researchers have found that people at a high risk for developing advanced AMD — such as individuals with intermediate AMD and people with advanced AMD in one eye only — curtailed their risk of developing the advanced version of the disease when they were treated with a combination of antioxidants and zinc with copper (known as the AREDS formula), according to a study published by the National Eye Institute. “The AREDS formula also reduced the risk of central vision loss by 19% in the same group,” according to the study.

4. Prevents or mitigates age-related weight gain

When it comes to weight management for older adults, eating nutrient dense foods and exercising are key, along with adhering to healthy habits, like getting enough good sleep and managing or reducing stress, Barth says. To lose weight gradually — between 0.5 pounds to 2 pounds a week — you have to burn more calories than you consume while getting the micronutrients your body needs.

“The goal is to eat your macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) along with fiber within healthy portion sizes. The best way to control portions and reduce cravings is by eating enough fiber, protein and also fat.”

Eating nuts can help you reach weight loss goals. A serving size of nuts is 1 ounce, or ¼ cup. “Nuts can be a great bridge between meals, ideally paired with a carbohydrate such as a serving of fruit, to set yourself up for success for portion control at your next meal,” Barth says.

“If we go long periods of time without eating, that can increase chances of over-eating later in the day,” she adds. “Consider portioning out nuts and packing them in your car or (at work) to munch on between meals.”

5. Helps Maintain Blood Sugar Control

The best way to manage diabetes is by controlling your blood sugar. While most people think this means cutting out carbs completely, it actually means pairing the carbohydrate in your diabetes diet plan with foods high in fiber, protein and healthy fats.

Eating carbohydrates with fiber, protein and fats helps slow down the digestion of carbs, leading to more controlled blood sugar because the absorption of glucose is delayed, says Anna Taylor, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

Eating in a way that helps control your blood sugar means your body will have a slower rise and fall of blood sugars — so the upticks are more like hills rather than mountains. This gives your body more time to deal with the glucose in the bloodstream. Nuts contain all three — proteins, fiber and healthy fats — so pairing a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit, for example, can be a great way to manage blood sugar levels rather than just consuming a piece of fruit.

For instance, instead of just having white toast for breakfast, try whole grain toast with peanut butter. Even though the total carbs in the meal will be about the same, your blood sugars will be much more controlled, with a less severe spike following the meal.

Another advantage to this approach is that you may find that if you include protein, fiber and/or healthy fats in your snack, you may not eat as many carbs.

Research published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2021 suggests that peanut butter consumption may be inversely associated with Type 2 diabetes risk. The study found no association between total nut consumption and Type 2 diabetes risk.

6. Eases aching joints

There’s an association between being overweight or obese and increased < href=”https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/tips-for-living-better-with-joint-pain”>joint pain, Barth says. Carrying too much weight puts additional stress on your joints. “Joint pain is never fun, and it can be hard to get adequate physical activity if you are in pain.”

Nuts that are high in omega-3 fats — such as walnuts — can help reduce inflammation in your joints and throughout your body, especially when consumed in the context of a diet rich in other anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, herbs and spices.

6 health benefits of eating nuts:

— Healthier heart.

— Sharper mind.

— Better eye health.

— Prevents or mitigates age-related weight gain.

— Helps maintain blood sugar control.

— Eases aching joints.

More from U.S. News

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Benefits of Eating Nuts for Older Adults originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 03/22/22: The story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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