Adding nuts to our diet is already considered a good strategy for lowering the risk of heart disease by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol levels. A recent study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto suggests eating tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts can improve the results of both HbA1c tests and fasting glucose tests for type 2 diabetes patients.

"Tree nuts are another way people can maintain healthy blood sugar levels in the context of a healthy dietary pattern," Dr. John Sievenpiper, physician and researcher in the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael's Hospital, said in a statement.

Sievenpiper and his colleagues recruited 450 type 2 diabetes patients to participate in 12 clinical trials. People in North America generally consume less than one serving of tree nuts a day, equaling a quarter of a cup or 30 grams. Adding tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, coconuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and pistachios to our diets could lead to further metabolic benefits. Study participants were asked to consume 54 grams of tree nuts per day.

Overall, adding tree nuts to the diets of type 2 diabetes patients improved HbA1c test results, the measurement of blood sugar levels over a period of three months, and fasting glucose levels, which tests blood glucose levels after a patient hasn’t eaten or drank anything except water for eight hours. Even though tree nuts can be high in calories and fat, albeit healthy unsaturated fat, the study’s participants did not gain weight. The research team identified better results when tree nuts replaced refined carbohydrates instead of saturated fats.

A similar study conducted at St. Michael’s back in 2011 revealed that eating nuts every day could help control type 2 diabetes and prevents related complications such as eye problems, stroke, and limb amputation. Type 2 diabetes patients who ate nuts every day showed improvement in blood glucose control and reductions in “bad” cholesterol levels.  

"Mixed, unsalted, raw, or dry-roasted nuts have benefits for both blood glucose control and blood lipids and may be used as part of a strategy to improve diabetes control without weight gain," said Dr. David Jenkins from St. Michael's Hospital Risk Factor Modification Centre. "The study indicates that nuts can provide a specific food option for people with Type 2 diabetes wishing to reduce their carbohydrate intake."

Source: Sievenpiper J, et al. PLOS ONE. 2014.