These included respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases
Link between peanuts and lower death rates was as strong as other nuts
Peanut butter offered no protective effect; researchers explained high levels of vegetable oils and salt could 'cancel out' health benefits of nuts
Snacking on just half a handful of nuts a day can cut the risk of dying from a string of major diseases, a new study reveals.
Researchers found that eating at least 10g of nuts or peanuts per day led to a lower risk of dying from respiratory disease, such as asthma and emphysema, and neurodegenerative diseases, which includes dementia.
It also reduced the risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, which include heart attacks and strokes.
The effects were found to be equal in men and women, they revealed.
And people who ate peanuts showed just as strong reductions in mortality as those who ate tree nuts like cashews, almonds, pecans and walnuts, among others.
However, researchers found no protective effect from eating peanut butter.
They explained this may be because the salt and vegetable oils it contains 'cancel out' the beneficial effects of the nuts.
Researchers used data from the Netherlands Cohort Study, which has been running since 1986 among more than 120,000 Dutch men and women, aged 55 to 69.
They assessed how often people ate peanuts, other nuts, and peanut butter, and how much of these foods they consumed.
Peanut butter was not found to protect against early death, possibly due to high trans fatty acids levels
Then, they analysed the relationship with overall mortality from any cause, and death from a specific cause.
The link between tree nut and peanut consumption and cardiovascular death back up earlier results from American and Asian studies that often focused on cardiovascular diseases.
However, the new study found that mortality due to cancer, diabetes, respiratory, and neurodegenerative diseases was also lowered among people who eat peanuts and tree nuts.
Professor Piet van den Brandt, from Maastricht University, who led the research, said: 'It was remarkable that substantially lower mortality was already observed at consumption levels of 15 grams of nuts or peanuts on average per day, half a handful.
'A higher intake was not associated with further reduction in mortality risk.'
The study was supported by an analysis of previously published studies which showed similar patterns for deaths from cancer and respiratory diseases.
Professor van den Brandt said peanuts and tree nuts both contain various compounds such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, various vitamins, fibre, antioxidants, and other compounds, that may contribute to the lower death rates.
However, besides peanuts, peanut butter also contains added components such as salt and vegetable oils.
In the past, it has been shown that peanut butter contains trans fatty acids and therefore the composition of peanut butter is different from peanuts.
Professor van den Brandt said the adverse health effects of salt and trans fatty acids could inhibit the protective effects of peanuts.
The research was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.