Friday, March 1, 2013
"Eat all the nuts you want." "Really!??" "Really."
The past few days saw the publication of a major piece of diet / medical research, in the New England Journal Of Medicine. The NEJM is one of the top peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, highly respected.
The study, basically, measured the effects of a traditional "Mediterranean diet" - in a large group of people (over 7,000) over a long period of time (median of 4.8 years); in Spain (where access to the correct foods is good.)
In the world of medical research, this is an extraordinary achievement; it's incredibly hard to follow so many people, for such a long period; but they did it.
The major reason this hit the news now- the study was shut down. By the "medical ethics" watchdogs. Because the results were so very clear, that to continue would be causing unnecessary deaths and illness- in the control group. They knew it.
Most of the world media picked this up as another "yes indeed, olive oil is good for you!" story; but that is grossly inaccurate. Quoting from the NEJM:
"In a multicenter trial in Spain, we randomly assigned participants who were at high cardiovascular risk, but with no cardiovascular disease at enrollment, to one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a control diet (advice to reduce dietary fat). "
In plain English; they compared 3 diets; high olive oil; high nuts (instead of olive oil); or common "low-fat" diet.
The outcome- either the olive or - OR the high nuts diet - reduced death and illness by 30%, over the low-fat diet. That's essentially the same impact statins have; the miracle drug of the past decades.
The difference between the high olive oil diet and the high nuts diet (specifically a mixture of "English" walnuts, almonds - and hazelnuts!!) was a matter of a couple percent- not statistically significant.
Nuts - are good for you. We - here - knew that. Now the medical world agrees, fully.
MORE THAN THAT - there were two aspects to the study that are very hard to sift out of either the technical paper or the popular press versions; but which the NYT writer Gina Kolata hits in her video interview; available at the top of this article.
Speaking to the researchers; she was amazed to hear them recommend that "people should eat all the nuts they want." She had trouble believing that- as did her interviewer- so it gets repeated. Yep; that's what the doctors were saying- with this addendum: "Except at meals." What? Because- they fill you up so effectively- you might not eat the fish, fruit, and tomato sauce that are also part of the diet...
They kind of gloss over the "why" - but it's actually enormously significant. Nuts satisfy your hunger- to the extent that you stop being hungry.
In a world plagued with increasing obesity, and obsession with losing weight- can we "sell" that?
Oh, yes we can. And for once- getting people to eat more of our food product - will be good for them.
Notice; our other 2 nut crops weren't included in the study; chestnuts and hickory/pecans- so we shouldn't assume. But there is abundant evidence they are also, literally, "good" for you; and we're working on the data for that.