New medical research may have you reaching for a bowl of nuts.

In the largest study of its kind, findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine show people who ate a daily handful of nuts were much less likely to die than those who didn't eat nuts.

A 30-year U.S. study of more than 120,000 people found that compared to people who didn't eat nuts, those who ate a daily serving of any kind of nut were:

  • 20 per cent less likely to die from any cause
  • 29 per cent less likely to die from heart disease
  • 11 per cent less likely to die from cancer

Lisa Cianfrini, a nutrition specialist at Brescia College says nuts are "definitely a superfood."

She didn't take part in the study, but she says nuts pack a powerful nutritional punch.

"Nuts are a great source of healthy protein, healthy fats, they also have fibre, lots of vitamins and minerals and phytosterols - a really neat group of nutrients that have been shown to have really positive health benefits."

And there's more good news, the nut eaters in the study were - on average - thinner.

The study's author Dr. Charles Fuchs at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says "As a source for weight loss it probably does contribute to desired weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight...and we believe there are substances within nuts that seems to affect energy or caloric pathways that may alter metabolism in a positive way that allows you to contribute to weight loss."

But be careful how you consume your nuts. If they're loaded with salt or covered with milk chocolate you'll be comprimising the health benefits.

You also have to watch the portions

Cianfrini says "The effective dose is about 30 grams which is less than a quarter of a cup and you're going to get somewhere between 200 to 300 calories for that."

Peanut butter can also be just as healthful, but it's best to eat it in a pure-ground form.