The Afternoon Snack That Can Help You Live Longer

06/11/2014 10:02 am ET | Updated Jun 11, 2014

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By Jessica Girdwain

As one of the cornerstones of a Mediterranean diet, nuts make an excellent addition to just about any meal. And now a study in The New England Journal of Medicine has found that eating roughly a handful of them daily is associated with a 20 percent lower risk of death. But while all nuts are healthy, each variety has its own unique benefits. We spotlight the standouts.

  • Macadamias
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    Though these nuts pack roughly 21 grams of fat per serving, most of it is the unsaturated kind—so you can nosh guilt free. Macadamias are an excellent source of two nutrients vital for healthy brain and nerve function: manganese (one serving delivers 66 percent of what you need daily) and the B vitamin thiamine (30 percent of your recommended dietary allowance).
    Serving size: 10 to 12 nuts, 204 calories
  • Brazil Nuts
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    The bad news: You can't eat a lot of them. Each of these Amazonian nuts contains about 33 calories—the equivalent of nearly 10 M&M's. The good news: You needn't go overboard to reap their health benefits. Just two nuts per day for 12 weeks can increase blood levels of the mineral selenium by 64 percent. Selenium is essential for proper immune function, as it helps build germ-fighting white blood cells.
    Serving size: 6 nuts, 186 calories
  • Almonds
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    Call them the skinny nuts. In a 2013 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate about one and a half servings of almonds with breakfast felt a 35 percent decrease in appetite an hour later. When the nuts were consumed as an afternoon snack, they quashed appetites by about two and a half times that, helping the subjects naturally eat less for the rest of the day.
    Serving size: 23 nuts, 164 calories
  • Pecans
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    A small study in The Journal of Nutrition found that people who consumed about three servings of pecans experienced as much as a 33 percent drop in oxidized LDL cholesterol (the kind that causes artery-clogging plaque to form). The pecan's power may lie in its high levels of heart-protecting antioxidants.
    Serving size: 9 halves, 196 calories
  • Pistachios
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    Not only are pistachios the lowest-calorie nut of the bunch, but they're also rich in healthy unsaturated fatty acids. In a new study, a group that consumed 20 percent of their daily calories from pistachios for nearly six months had lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels—two risk factors for heart disease—and trimmed their waistlines more than those who ate a wholesome but pistachio-free diet.
    Serving size: 49 nuts, 159 calories

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