Eating a handful of nuts twice a week slashes the risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to new research.
A study of almost 5,500 people found regular consumers of nuts were almost a fifth less likely to be struck down.
Any type of the snack food helped prevent cardiovascular disease – from walnuts and almonds to pistachios and hazelnuts.
Nuts have been hailed a ‘superfood’ due to them being packed with antioxidants, proteins, nutrients, minerals and fibre.
Study lead author Dr Noushin Mohammadifard, of Isfahan Cardiovascular Research Institute in Iran, said: “Nuts are a good source of unsaturated fat and contain little saturated fat.
“They also have protein, minerals, vitamins, fibre, phytosterols and polyphenols which benefit heart health.”
It is the first time the link between nut intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death has been investigated among the Iranian population.
Dr Noushin Mohammadifard said: “European and US studies have related nuts with cardiovascular protection but there is limited evidence from the Eastern Mediterranean Region.”
Along with heart disease they have been found to stave off a host of serious illnesses including cancer, diabetes, respiratory conditions and dementia.
The 5,432 participants aged 35 and older were selected at random and came from urban and rural areas of Isfahan, Arak and Najafabad.
Eating nuts two or more times a week was associated with a 17 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease – the world’s number one killer.
This was compared to those who consumed them once a fortnight – irrespective of other health factors such as age, sex, education, smoking and exercise.
Nut intake was also found to reduce mortality rates from other causes but lost significance after adjustment for these potential influences.
Dr Mohammadifard, who presented the findings at a European Society of Cardiology (ESC) meeting in Paris, added: “Raw fresh nuts are the healthiest.
“Nuts should be fresh because unsaturated fats can become oxidised in stale nuts, making them harmful.
“You can tell if nuts are rancid by their paint-like smell and bitter or sour taste.”
The volunteers were followed for up to 12 years – starting in 2001 when a diet survey assessed intake of nuts including walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and seeds.
All were healthy at the time. They or family members were then interviewed every two years until 2013 for the occurrence of heart attacks, strokes and death.
The specific outcomes investigated were coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease and deaths from it as a whole and death from any cause.
Overall there were 751 cardiovascular events – 594 heart attacks and 157 strokes – and 179 and 458 deaths from cardiovascular disease and any cause, respectively.
ESC guidelines list 30 grams (1oz) of unsalted nuts per day as one of the characteristics of a healthy diet – pointing out they are high in calories.
That would be about 30 pistachio kernels, 20 almonds or hazelnuts, 15 cashews, pecans or macademias, 10 Brazil nuts or walnuts or two tablespoons of pine nuts.
Two years ago a study of over 200,000 people in the US found those who snacked on nuts twice a week were almost a quarter less likely to develop heart disease.
They were followed for up to 32 years. The US team said recent dietary recommendations have shifted towards including higher quantities of nuts.
Cardiovascular diseases reduce blood flow to the heart and brain by blocking or narrowing the arteries – which can trigger a heart attack or stroke.
In the UK, 160,000 people die from heart and circulatory disease each year.