(CNN) -- Hungry? Grab a handful of nuts. Not only are they packed with protein, but it turns out they may be the food for longevity.
At least, that's the conclusion of the largest study to date looking at the relationship between eating nuts and longer lives. Nuts are high in unsaturated fats, protein and vitamins, as well as antioxidants that are thought to be linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School looked at nut consumption and deaths from all causes among 76,464 women participating in the Nurse's Health Study and 42,498 men involved in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They asked the participants about their nut consumption, including how many almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts they typically ate.
Those who reported regularly consuming nuts were less likely to die from a variety of diseases, most significantly cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases.
People who ate nuts seven or more times a week, in fact, enjoyed a 20% lower death rate after four years than individuals who did not eat nuts. Nut eaters also tended to be leaner, more physically active, and non-smokers.
Prior studies found similar connections between nuts and longer life, but the large size of this study gives the association more support.
The study was partially funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization representing nine tree nut industries, but the group played no role in the research or results, said Maureen Ternus, executive director.
How many nuts does it take to extend lifespan? That's not clear, and the scientists say that the findings don't imply any cause and effect relationship between nuts and later death, but the correlation is worth investigating further.
Nuts are part of the balanced diet that public health officials recently outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans -- the government group advised that adults eat about five to six ounce of protein (which could include nuts) a day.
This story was initially published on TIME.com.
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