Nuts for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention?

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Nuts for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention?

A new analysis suggests that eating nuts might help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes (T2D), although the evidence is not overwhelming. According to the report, which was published in the journal Nutrients, studies have determined that higher consumption of total nuts and peanuts was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and nuts might also help in controlling blood sugar and in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes.

Present diabetes guidelines, the researchers note, advocate various types of dietary practices, and high among them are vegetarian options and what’s known as the “Mediterranean diet.” Both of these diets recommend nuts. “Nuts,” according to the authors, are represented by tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts). Peanuts, although they are not technically nuts but legumes, are included because they have “similar nutritional and culinary profiles to tree nuts.”

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For their review, the authors gathered articles from two medical databases that were related to type 2 diabetes and nut consumption (both tree nuts and peanuts). In the area of the relationship of nuts to blood sugar, they report that clinical trials have showed that “consumption of nuts alone and when added to high glycemic index (GI) foods” show a reduction in blood sugar after meals when compared to consumption of high GI foods alone. (The glycemic index shows how quickly different foods raise blood sugar levels.) Two other studies reported that eating almonds along with white bread lowered blood sugar compared to white bread alone and eating raw almonds “significantly lowered” blood sugar compared to cookies. Similar beneficial results on various health factors have been reported in studies on pistachios, “mixed nuts,” peanuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts. For example, a project called the Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study reported lower blood sugar levels after higher nut intake. Other studies have connected higher nut consumption with diabetes markers like plasma insulin, insulin resistance, blood glucose, and glycated hemoglobin.

Nuts and diabetes prevention

Does eating nuts help prevent diabetes? The authors noted that the evidence in “inconclusive,” and pointed out most of the studies combined nuts with other plant foods, like peas, seeds, and legumes. But they said the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study, an analysis of women aged 35-52, found that women who consumed two or more servings of walnuts a week had a 24% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who never or almost never ate walnuts. Finally, one study revealed that eating more than five servings of nuts per week was related to lower insulin resistance, especially in women under 40. As for clinical trials (a clinical trial is a study in which people are divided into two or more groups, each of which receives a different treatment), the researchers wrote, “Unfortunately no clinical trials have been conducted with the primary aim of testing the ability of nut supplementation to reduce or prevent the incidence of diabetes, probably because such types of trials are very expensive and difficult to perform.” However, one study did report “a beneficial effect” of the Mediterranean diet enriched with 30 grams (1 ounce) per day of tree nuts on preventing type 2 diabetes.

As for why nuts might help treat and prevent diabetes, the authors report speculation that “macronutrients, micronutrients, and other bioactive compounds found in nuts have been suggested to play a role” in regulating sugar and insulin levels after meals. Also, nuts are low in carbohydrates, so eating them does not “contribute significantly” to high blood sugar and can also contribute to a greater feeling of fullness, which lowers food consumption in general.

In conclusion, the researchers wrote, “Of the limited evidence currently available, overall findings suggest higher nut consumption may have beneficial effects on diabetes prevention and management. In particular, some but not all large cohort studies have found that higher consumption of total nuts, walnuts, and peanuts was significantly associated with a lower risk of T2D. Moreover, inclusion of nuts in the diets of individuals may have a beneficial effect on glycemic control and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in those with T2D.” They added, however, “…current evidence is not definitive, and there remains much opportunity for future research to address present weaknesses and limited data in this field to provide more conclusive evidence on the role of nuts in the prevention and management of diabetes.”

Want to learn more about nuts and diabetes? Read “Nuts and Health” and “Seed and Nut Nutrition Chart.”

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis

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A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University. He has decades of experience writing about diabetes and related health conditions and interviewing healthcare experts.

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