About 60 percent of their calories come from fat, and they pack more calories per ounce than cooking oil, fried pork rinds, or bacon.
So how can nuts be gathering such a solid medical reputation as a healthy food that battles the very diseases linked to overloads of fat and calories?
Researchers from Harvard University made the latest major entry in the nutty dossier with a study that analyzed the diet of almost 84,000 women.
They sought answers to a critically important question: What can be done to control the spiraling increase in Type 2, or “adult onset,” diabetes?
That's the most common kind of diabetes, the blood sugar disorder. It develops in adults and usually doesn't require insulin. Obesity increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and 50 million Americans have serious weight problems.
A 2003 study by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that both problems are getting progressively worse.
At least 17 million Americans have diabetes, and another 16 million have abnormally high blood sugar and “pre-diabetes.” The number of diabetes cases is increasing by more than 8 per cent annually, CDC reported. Obesity is increasing by almost 6 per cent annually.
About 300,000 people now are dying annually from heart attacks and other diseases linked to obesity and diabetes, CDC said. Many more are suffering other medical consequences. Diabetics, for instance have a high risk of vision loss, nerve damage that requires amputation of limbs, and kidney failure.
The Harvard group decided to follow up years of scientific evidence which hinted that eating more nuts and peanut butter might be what the doctor ordered to prevent Type II diabetes.
Other scientists found evidence, for instance, that it's not the total amount of fat in foods that increases the risk of diabetes. Rather, it's the mind of fat. Nuts may be loaded with fat, but it's polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which actually helps the body control blood sugar levels.
Nuts also contain fiber, magnesium, vitamins, minerals, plant protein, and other nutrients that also could be beneficial.
Women who ate about 5 ounces of nuts a week had a 27 per cent lower risk of developing diabetes than those who seldom or never ate nuts. In women who ate 1 to 4 ounces of nuts a week, the risk was 16 per cent lower.
Those who ate a 1-ounce serving of peanut butter at least 5 times a week reduced their risk by 20 per cent.
Nutritionists have been concerned that frequent nut consumption might increase the risk of obesity. But the study found no such problem.
That's because women who regularly ate nuts were eating them instead of other foods, such as red meat, baked goods, bread, margarine, and butter. Nuts seemed to satisfy hunger in ways that reduced the craving for such foods.
The researchers suggested that others follow the example, and substitute nuts and peanut butter for less-healthy foods.