As you've probably noticed, peanut allergies appear to be increasing in the United States, but not in other countries. We do not know the reason yet, but there are a number of proposed theories that haven't been proven. Once you have peanut allergy it can be very serious, causing any allergic symptom from a mild itchy rash to complete lung closure and death. There was a flurry of news stories this summer about a 13-year-old at a California summer camp who died from eating a Rice Krispies treat that she did not know had peanuts in it despite being given epinephrine. I know that our synagogue school has totally banned any product that does not state it was made in a factory without peanuts. Some parents are very frightened by nuts around their children.
If your child isn't allergic to nuts, a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that you should incorporate nuts into your family's diet. The NEJM study found that the consumption of peanuts and tree nuts was strongly associated with decreased mortality from all causes in a very large group of medical professionals (about 120, 000) who were followed in detail for almost 30 years. This is a very strong study since it can state that other variables that may be associated with eating nuts (such as getting more exercise or smoking less or eating a healthier diet) is not different between the groups. The only difference is that people who eat nuts live longer. Also, the more days per week you eat nuts, the more you reduces your chance of dying at any given age.
This wasn't a small difference either. If you eat peanuts and/or tree nuts daily, your chance of dying decreased by 20 percent of any cause. Your chance of having a heart attack goes down, but so does your chance of having cancer. Why? We do not know, but it something to take seriously considering it was a large and well done study.
We, in pediatrics, are not big on peanuts or tree nuts for very young children because of allergic reactions and because peanuts are a major cause of aspirating a foreign body into the lungs. But as children get older, it could be a good thing to encourage them to eat more nuts.
Penny M. Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State who has studied the effects of nuts on heart disease, described them in her study as "complex plant foods that are not only rich sources of unsaturated fat, but also contain several nonfat constituents," including protein, fiber, plant sterols that can lower cholesterol, and micronutrients like copper and magnesium. A recent New York Times column cited Kris-Etherton and other evidence that shows eating nuts is associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases, including heart and blood vessel disorders and Type 2 diabetes.
This latest study now shows we could save thousands and thousands of early deaths in adults per year by eating a load of nuts every day.
Should we allow nuts or not in public places, and encourage or discourage their use? I really do not know, but the data is fascinating to me as sit here at age 63 eating peanut butter on a cracker.
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