You may be aware that nuts are rich sources of unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, minerals, vitamin E, folate, and other potentially beneficial bioactive compounds. You may not be aware, however, that multiple studies have suggested that eating nuts may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as well, while improving blood cholesterol and blood vessel function, and preventing weight gain. In fact, investigators have shown that nut consumption is inversely associated with cardiovascular disease related death, total heart disease, and stroke.

Now, a new study out of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute published in April seems to further validate previous data and observations. The study found that eating nuts several times a week may play a role in reducing the risk for atrial fibrillation (AF), a potentially dangerous heart rhythm abnormality. In this well-done study, the researchers found an inverse association between nut consumption and AF, which remained after adjustment for multiple risk factors. Eating nuts three or more times a week was associated with an 18% reduced risk for AF. Each additional portion of nuts consumed per week was associated with another 4% reduction in AF risk.

They also observed favorable inverse associations of nut consumption with risk for total and nonfatal heart attack, heart failure, and abdominal aortic aneurysm after adjustment for age and sex. Nut consumption was not associated with risk for aortic valve stenosis, stroke, or brain hemorrhage in this study.

To further evaluate the potential role nuts on specific cardiovascular outcomes, the researchers analyzed data from two population-based cohort studies — the Cohort of Swedish Men and the Swedish Mammography Cohort — in which 61,364 people had completed a food-frequency questionnaire and were followed up for 17 years through linkage with the Swedish National Patient and Death Registers. Results were consistent, showing that nut consumption was inversely associated with risk for heart attack, heart failure, AF, and abdominal aortic aneurysm.

The authors also noted that people who ate nuts tended to be better educated and to have healthier lifestyles than those who didn’t include nuts in their diet. They were less likely to smoke or to have a history of high blood pressure. And they were leaner, were more physically active, drank more alcohol, and ate more fruit and vegetables.

A healthy daily intake of nuts is 30-45 g (a small handful) or approximately: 20-30 almonds; 15-20 cashews; 20-30 hazelnuts; or 25-30 walnuts – all raw and unsalted. So, when reaching for that mid-day or evening snack, it appears that it would be wise to keep nuts handy and at the top of your list of safe and healthy dietary choices.