One out of every four deaths in the United States is attributed to heart disease. Lowering your risk for heart disease means adopting a healthier lifestyle, and that starts with what you put into your body. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds who consume nuts and peanuts (considered a legume) tend to have a lower risk for death from cardiovascular disease and overall death.

"We found consistent evidence that high nut/peanut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of total mortality and CVD mortality,” the authors of the study said in a statement. “This inverse association was observed among both men and women and across each racial/ethnic group, and was independent of metabolic conditions, smoking, alcohol consumption, and BMI.

For the study, a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine research team, headed up by Dr. Xiao-Ou Shu, gathered data from 71,764 black and white men and women from the southeastern United States and 134,265 Chinese men and women from Shanghai, China. Researchers were able to assess nut and peanut consumption equally in participants from the U.S.; however, only peanut consumption was analyzed in participants from China. Men in both groups consumed more peanuts than women.

Nut and peanut consumption led to a reduced risk for overall mortality due to cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease across gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Risk for overall mortality was reduced by 21 percent among participants from the U.S. and 17 percent among participants from China, who ate the most peanuts.

“We observed no significant associations between nut/peanut consumption and risk of death due to cancer and diabetes mellitus,” they added. “We cannot, however, make etiologic inferences from these observational data, especially with the lack of a clear dose-response trend in many of the analyses. Nevertheless, the findings highlight a substantive public health impact of nut/peanut consumption in lowering CVD mortality given the affordability of peanuts to individuals from all SES (socioeconomic status) backgrounds.”

Although peanuts are often included as nuts in data, they are actually classified as legumes with nutrient content similar to tree nuts. Nuts are not only a healthy source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they are also high in monounsaturated fats, which are empathized as part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

"Of course, peanuts are not really nuts — they are legumes, since they grow in bushes, unlike tree nuts — but who cares, if they help us to live longer at an affordable price." Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and a deputy editor of JAMA Internal Medicine, said in a related Editor's Note.

The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted, unoiled nuts a week — a serving size being a small handful, one and a half ounces of whole nuts, or two tablespoons of nut butter. Considering 80 percent of a nut is fat, albeit healthy fat, experts also recommend practicing moderation when it comes to nut consumption, especially if you’re watching your weight.

Source: Luu H, Blot W, Shu X, et al. Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015.