Every so often, you hear about this study or that touting the health benefits of this food or that. The headlines are catchy and often seem unambiguous. For instance, consider these that came in the wake of recent research on nut consumption:
- Eat Nuts Every Day to Cut Heart and Cancer Risk
- Eating a Handful of Nuts May Prevent Major Diseases
- Nuts in Your Diet May Help You Live Longer, Study Finds
- Nut Intake Daily Can Prolong Life by Cutting Risk of Fatal Diseases Like Cancer and Heart Disease
There’s just one problem: That’s not exactly what the study showed.
Rather, the paper, published this past December in BMC Medicine, showed an association between nut consumption and the risk of dying from a variety of diseases. It did not – because it could not – show that one caused the other. As the authors themselves note,
results from observational studies alone cannot be used to draw conclusions with regards to whether the observed associations are causal….
Even so, in a press release on the study, its lead author talked about why nuts might indeed turn out to have a beneficial effect:
Nuts and peanuts are high in fibre, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats — nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk and which can reduce cholesterol levels.
Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk. Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time.
Exactly. And that’s a good part of why we’re big fans of the food ourselves. (Besides that, they’re delicious!) But whenever you’re looking at research like this, it’s important to be clear between what it actually says and what we might want it to say.
It also offers a good reminder of a critical fact when it comes to eating for health: It’s the whole diet that ultimately matters. While food IS medicine, individual foods aren’t drugs – a compound you take and expect a specific biological effect. Rather, it’s the whole sum of what enter your body – and how you treat your body – that guides whether you will sustain naturally good health or not.
Perhaps the greatest error of conventional Western medicine is the fragmentation it involves, seeing and treating everything as separate, unrelated. In reality, everything we do or are exposed to has an effect on our physical and mental well-being, for good or ill, better or worse.
If you like nuts, eat nuts. They’re wonderful. But they’re not a cure-all. How’s your overall diet looking? How’s your sleep? Hygiene? Level of physical activity? How are your social connections with others? Your spiritual or reflective life?
It’s the dynamic of your lifestyle as a whole that makes the biggest impact on your health and well-being.
Image by Melchoir, via Wikimedia Commons