Lead author Dr. Ying Bao of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston and colleagues analyzed nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality among 76,464 women in the Nurses' Health Study and 42,498 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
Consumption of nuts, including tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts was inversely associated with total mortality in both men and women, independent of other predictors for death.
In addition, there were significant inverse associations for deaths due to cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, Bao said.
"Compared with those who did not eat nuts, individuals who consumed nuts -- serving size of 1 ounce, or three tablespoons, seven or more times per week had a 20 percent lower death rate and this association was dose-dependent," Bao said in a statement.
"Those who consumed more nuts were also leaner, and tended to have a healthy lifestyle, such as smoking less and exercising more."
Nuts contain nutrients such as unsaturated fats; high-quality protein; vitamins such as E, folate and niacin; minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, and phytochemicals -- all of which may offer cardioprotective, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.