Nuts are rich in fatty acids, different vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, proteins, and other nutrients. Different studies suggest that nuts such as almonds, walnuts and peanuts and dried fruits such as figs, prunes, dates and raisins may help in reducing the risk of specific types of cancers such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, gastric non cardia adenocarcinoma (a type of stomach cancer) and lung cancer. Nutritionists also suggest taking nuts such as almonds as part of a keto diet/nutrition plan for those who follow a ketogenic lifestyle to reduce weight and stay away from obesity, heart problems and cancer. However, based on the bioactive ingredients present in the different nuts and dried fruits and other factors such as our lifestyle, food allergies, cancer type and ongoing medications, one may still have to optimize their nutrition plan to get maximum benefits and stay safe.
There are various factors that can contribute to the risk of cancers. Genetic risk factors such as certain mutations, age, diet, lifestyle factors such as alcohol, smoking, tobacco consumption, obesity, lack of physical activity, familial history of cancer and environmental factors such as exposure to radiation are some of the most common risk factors of cancer. While many of these are not under our control, there is a lot that we can do to reduce the risk of cancer. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, taking a balanced diet, doing regular exercises and keeping ourselves physically fit are some of the things that we can do to stay away from cancer.
Our diet can have a great influence on cancer prevention. According to Cancer Research UK, taking healthier diets could prevent around 1 in 20 cancers. A healthy diet/nutrition plan for cancer prevention designed by nutritionists often includes a variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, legumes/beans, nuts such as peanuts, almonds and walnuts, whole grains, and healthy fats. Nuts such as almonds are very popular in keto diet or ketogenic lifestyle which is also being explored in cancer nutrition these days. In this blog, we will elaborate on the studies that evaluated the association between nut and dried fruit consumption and cancer risk.
Different Types of Nuts
There are various kinds of edible nuts that are healthy and nutritious. Some of the most common edible tree nuts include almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashew nuts, pecans, macadamias and Brazil nuts.
Chestnuts are also tree nuts, but unlike others, these are starchier. Chestnuts have high carbohydrate content as compared to almonds and many other tree nuts.
Peanuts which are also referred to as groundnuts are also very popular and fall under the category of edible nuts. Peanuts are also highly nutritious like almonds, walnuts and other tree nuts.
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Health Benefits of Nuts
Nuts are rich in different types of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, various vitamins, fibre, antioxidants, proteins, as well as other macronutrients and micronutrients. Mentioned below are the health benefits of a few of the nuts that are commonly used on a daily basis.
A nutrition rich in almonds is highly beneficial as they are packed with protein and healthy fats and are low in carbohydrates. Almonds included as part of the nutrition contribute to a significant amount of proteins, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins such as folate (vitamin B9) and biotin (vitamin B7) and smaller amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium.
These days, people often search about keto diets and reach out to nutritionists to help them plan a ketogenic lifestyle with the aim of losing weight and keeping themselves fit to prevent heart problems and cancer in future. Though almonds are high in fats, they are mostly monounsaturated fat which can help in protecting the heart by maintaining the levels of good HDL cholesterol compared to the bad LDL cholesterol. Almonds are one of the favorite foods of nutritionists who create nutrition plans for those who plan to start a ketogenic lifestyle, as almonds are low in carbs, high in good fats and proteins (ideal for keto diet) and help in reducing the body weight and obesity, thereby reducing the chances of heart problems and cancers such as breast cancer.
Apart from reducing hunger and promoting weight loss, almonds also help in lowering blood sugar levels, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels. No wonder why dieticians and cancer nutritionists are crazy about almonds – the healthy and nutritious snack!
Walnuts are rich sources of omega-3-fatty acids, antioxidants, proteins, fiber, vitamins including Vitamin E, Vitamin B6 and folic acid and minerals such as copper phosphorus and manganese.
Walnuts can help in managing
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Obesity and Body weight
Walnuts promote the growth of certain bacteria that are good for our gut. Eating walnuts may also help in reducing the risk of heart disease and dementia and also support healthy functioning of the brain. Walnuts are also keto – friendly and enjoyed as a satisfying snack by those who follow a ketogenic lifestyle and diet to lose weight and stay away from cancer. Due to these benefits, cancer nutritionists also consider walnuts as a healthy food.
Peanuts are rich sources of proteins, different vitamins and minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. Peanuts are considered to have more protein than any other nuts.
Taking peanuts may help in supporting heart health, maintaining blood sugar levels and a healthy body weight.
Dried fruits are nothing but the raw fruits with their water content removed naturally or via other processes to improve their shelf-life period. We often use dried fruits such as dried figs, dates, raisins, sultanas and prunes as part of our modern diet due to their nutritional benefits. Dried fruits (eg: figs) are rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins and are known to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dried fruits like raisins and dried figs can also benefit in controlling blood sugar levels. Dried fruits are also helpful in fighting heart diseases, obesity and diabetes.
However, there is a perception that dried fruits may be less healthy than fresh fruits as they contain more sugar content and unclear whether intake of dried fruits including dried figs and dates have the same nutritional benefits and protective effect against cancer as fresh fruit intake.
Association of Nut and Dried Fruit Consumption with Cancer Risk
Nuts and dried fruits have been a part of our diet since many decades, especially the Mediterranean diet. Nuts such as almonds and walnuts have also become the favorite food choices of nutritionists as these are key ingredients of a keto diet or a ketogenic lifestyle that replace tastier foods with high carbohydrate content, and are being explored for cancer care and prevention. Due to their high nutritional value, different studies have been carried out to study whether nuts and dried fruits consumption is beneficial in reducing the risk of different types of cancer. Some of the studies that evaluated the association of nuts and dried fruits consumption with cancer risk are elaborated below.
Association between a Nutrition Rich in Peanuts, Walnuts or Almonds and Breast Cancer Risk
In a study published in 2015, the researchers evaluated the association between the consumption of a diet/nutrition rich in nuts such as peanuts, walnuts or almonds and the development of breast cancer. The study included data between 2012–2013 from 97 breast cancer women recruited from a single public hospital center, Instituto Estatal de Cancerología de Colima, Mexico and 104 women with normal mammograms with no prior history of breast cancer. The researchers assessed the frequency of nut consumption by the participants of the study. (Alejandro D. Soriano-Hernandez et al,Gynecol Obstet Invest., 2015)
The analysis found that a high intake of nuts including peanuts, walnuts or almonds as part of the nutrition/diet significantly reduced the risk of breast cancer by two to three times. Hence, taking nuts (almonds, walnuts or peanuts) as part of daily diet may help in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Association between Nut Consumption and Colorectal Cancer Risk
In a recent study published in 2018, the researchers from Korea evaluated the association between nut consumption and the risk of colorectal cancer. For the analysis, they used data from a clinical (case-control) study which included 923 colorectal cancer patients from the National Cancer Center in Korea and 1846 controls. Data on dietary intake was collected using a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire where they extracted information on consumption of 106 types of food items. Consumption of nuts including peanuts, pine nuts, and almonds were categorized under one classification of food nutrition. If the nut consumption was less than 1 serving per week, it was categorized as zero consumption. Other categories were 1-3 servings per week and ≥3 servings per week. (Jeeyoo Lee et al, Nutr J., 2018)
The study found that high frequency of nut consumption was strongly associated with a decrease in the risk of colorectal cancer among women and men. The observation was consistent for all sub-sites of the colon and rectum in both men and women. However, there was an exception in this observation for the proximal colon cancer for women.
In short, this study indicates that a high consumption of nutrition rich in nuts such as almonds, peanuts and walnuts may help in decreasing the risk of colorectal cancer among women and men.
Association between Nut Consumption and Lung Cancer Risk
In a study published in 2017, the researchers evaluated the association between nut consumption and the risk of lung cancer. For the analysis, they used data from 2,098 lung cases from a clinical study (case-control) named Environment and Genetics in Lung Cancer Etiology (EAGLE) study and 18,533 incident cases in a prospective cohort/population based study named the National Institutes of Health (NIH) American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Diet and Health Study. Dietary information was obtained using a food frequency questionnaire for both studies. (Jennifer T Lee et al, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev., 2017)
The study found that a high consumption of nuts was associated with a decrease in the lung cancer incidence. The researchers also found that this association was independent of cigarette smoking status as well as other known risk factors.
Association between Nut and Peanut Butter Consumption and Gastric Non-cardia Adenocarcinoma
To test out the effect that nut and peanut butter consumption can have on specific cancer subtypes, a study was done in 2017 by researchers at the National Cancer Institute in the USA. For this study, researchers used data from NIH-AARP (National Institute of Health – American Association of Retired Persons) diet and health study which consisted of 566,407 people aged between 50 and 71. Validated food frequency questionnaires were used to figure out the daily nut consumption and the average follow up time for each participant was about 15.5 years. (Hashemian M et al, Am J Clin Nutr., 2017)
The study found that a high consumption of nuts and peanut butter was associated with a lower risk of developing gastric non cardia adenocarcinoma compared to those who did not consume any nuts. However, the researchers did not find any correlation between an increased nut consumption and esophageal adenocarcinoma, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and the stomach cancer that occurs in the first part that is closest to esophagus known as gastric cardia adenocarcinoma.
In summary these studies indicate that a high intake of nutrition rich in nuts such as as almonds, walnuts and peanuts may be beneficial in reducing the risk of different types of cancers including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, gastric non cardia adenocarcinoma and lung cancer.
Association between Dried Fruits Consumption and Cancer Risk
In a recent study published in 2019, the researchers evaluated the association between dried fruit intake and risk of different types of cancers. For this, they carried out a systematic review of 16 observational studies that were published between 1985 and 2018 and assessed the possibility of any association between traditional dried fruit consumption and cancer risk in humans. Most of the studies included in the analysis were conducted in the United States, Netherlands and Spain with a total of 12,732 cases from 437,298 participants. (Mossine VV et al, Adv Nutr. 2019)
The study highlighted that an increased intake of dried fruits such as figs, prunes, raisin etc can benefit us by reducing the risk of cancer. The analysis found that dried fruit intake was as effective as fresh fruit intake in reducing the risk of cancers. The study also specifically mentioned that increasing the intake of dried fruits such as raisins, figs, prunes (dried plums) and dates to 3-5 or more servings per week may benefit us by reducing the risk of cancers like pancreatic, prostate, stomach, bladder and colon cancers. However, based on the studies reviewed, the researchers didn’t find any protective effect of dried fruits on lung cancer or breast cancer risks.
The American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that approximately 47% of the colorectal cases in the United States could be prevented if we maintained a healthy weight and follow healthy lifestyle habits. Due to the nutritional benefits and the potential to reduce the risk of deadly diseases like cancer, nuts such as almonds and dried fruits including figs are suggested by nutritionists to be included as part of a healthy diet. Almonds, in particular, have gained more interest among dieticians and nutritionists, as these have also become a key part of keto diet (or a ketogenic lifestyle), which is being explored these days to lose weight and stay away from obesity which can lead to cancer and heart problems. However, keep in mind that a high fat, low carb, keto diet may not be beneficial for cancers such as kidney cancer.
All the studies elaborated above suggest that a nutrition rich in nuts including almonds, peanuts and walnuts and dried fruits including figs, prunes, dates and raisins may benefit us by reducing the risk of specific types of cancer such as breast cancer. The studies also show that taking a relatively smaller portion of dried fruits compared to fresh fruits may give similar benefits as fresh fruit intake. However, more extensive research is required to establish these findings.
“What should I eat?” is the most frequently asked question to cancer dieticians and physicians. The right answer depends upon cancer type, underlying genomics, current treatments, any allergies, lifestyle information, and factors like BMI.
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Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer.Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.