CHICAGO — Eating nuts or peanut butter may help ward off diabetes, according to a study of more than 83,000 nurses being published today.
Women who reported eating the equivalent of a handful of nuts or one tablespoon of peanut butter at least five times a week were more than 20% less likely to develop adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetes than those who rarely or never ate those products.
Researchers from Harvard University's School of Public Health analyzed data on 83,818 women ages 34 to 59 who were followed for up to 16 years. Researchers said the findings would probably apply to men.
The findings appear in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn.
"Nuts in the past have been considered as an unhealthy food because of the high-fat content," said Harvard researcher Dr. Frank Hu. "Conventional wisdom says that high-fat foods will increase obesity and Type 2 diabetes."
Research in the past decade has shown nuts contain good kinds of fat as well as other nutrients that can help keep cholesterol at healthy levels. They also contain fiber and magnesium, which help maintain balanced insulin and glucose levels. Insulin helps the body convert sugar into energy. Diabetes happens when the body cannot produce or properly use insulin.
During the government-funded study, 3,206 women developed diabetes. Researchers did not determine what kinds of nuts women were eating.
Nuts and peanut butter -- peanuts are classified as legumes but have many of the same qualities as nuts -- are among foods sometimes recommended for diabetics, who are prone to cardiovascular disease.
Some brands of peanut butter, however, may contain high amounts of sugar or fatty preservatives, so people are advised to check the label, said Martha Funnell, head of health care and education for the American Diabetes Assn. and a University of Michigan diabetes educator.