Find out in this article how walnuts, almonds, and other nuts can help reduce your cholesterol when eaten as part of a balanced diet.
Nuts And Your Heart
Some people mistakenly think of nuts as just another junk food snack. But, in fact, nuts are a fantastic source of healthy unsaturated fat, protein, and many other healthy nutrients. And they’re an excellent snack food — affordable, easy to store, and easy to carry when you’re on the go.
Some research studies have shown that people who regularly eat nuts are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who rarely eat them. So-much-so, now even the FDA allows some nuts and foods made with them to carry this claim: “Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts every day can reduce your risk of heart disease.”
But you need to keep in mind is nuts are high in calories. So, eating them won’t do much good if you gobble them in addition to usual your meals and snacks. On average, one ounce of nuts can provide 185 calories. So, for example, a handful of walnuts per day could easily add ten pounds or more per year if you don’t cut back on something else. This weight gain would tip the scales toward heart problems, not away from them. So, choose nuts instead of less healthy snacks such as chips. Or try using them as a healthful crunch in salads.
How Nuts Help Your Heart?
Research studies have found that people who are at risk of a heart attack can cut down their risks by eating a healthy diet that includes nuts.
These studies suggest that eating nuts can:
- Lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which play a significant role in the buildup of deposits known as plaques in arteries
- Improve the health of the lining of arteries
- Decrease levels of inflammation which otherwise increases risks of heart disease
- Lower the risk of developing blood clots, which otherwise may lead to a heart attack and death
Because of the above, nuts can boost heart health and cut down the risks of dying early from heart disease and other causes.
What Might Make Nuts Heart Healthy?
In addition to protein, most nuts have at least some of these heart-healthy substances:
Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish are well known to be rich in omega-3 fat, but many nuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy fat that is believed to help boost heart health, among other things, preventing erratic heart rhythms that can cause heart attacks.
Unsaturated fats. Though it’s not clear why but it’s believed that the “good” fats in nuts — both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — reduce bad cholesterol levels.
Fiber. All nuts have fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. Fiber also makes us feel full, so we tend to eat less. Besides that, fiber is believed to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin E. Vitamin E is thought to help prevent the development of plaques in arteries, which otherwise can narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can cause chest pain, coronary artery disease, or a heart attack.
Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help reduce your cholesterol. Plant sterols occur naturally in nuts.
L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of L-arginine, an amino acid that may help improve the health of your artery walls by relaxing constricted blood vessels, making them more flexible, easing blood flow, and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.
What’s a healthy serving of nuts?
On average, about 80% of a nut is fat. Although most of this is a healthy type of fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why you should limit the nuts portion. Ideally, you should eat a handful of nuts or a tablespoon or two of nuts spread, replacing saturated fats, such as those in meats, eggs, and dairy products.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming about four servings of unsalted (raw or dry-roasted) nuts per week. One serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter. Alternatively, you can eat one ounce of nuts each day.
Caution: Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats contained in many types of meat and dairy products will not do your heart any good.
Does it matter what kind of nuts you eat?
In general, most nuts are healthy. However, some may contain more heart-healthy nutrients than others. For example, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and pecans are also considered heart-healthy. And peanuts — which are strictly speaking not a nut, but a legume, like beans — appear to be relatively healthy.
Remember that you could end up vitiating the heart-healthy properties of nuts if they’re covered with sugar, salt, or chocolate.
Here’s some useful nutrition information about common types of nuts. All calorie and fat measurements are per one ounce – 28.4 grams (g) – of unsalted nuts.
|Type of nut||Calories||Total fat|
|Almonds, dry-roasted||170||14.9 g|
|Almonds, raw||164||14.2 g|
|Brazil nuts, raw||187||19 g|
|Cashews, dry-roasted||163||13.1 g|
|Chestnuts, roasted||70||0.6 g|
|Hazelnuts (filberts), dry-roasted||183||17.7 g|
|Hazelnuts (filberts), raw||178||17.2 g|
|Macadamia nuts, dry-roasted||204||21.6 g|
|Macadamia nuts, raw||204||21.5 g|
|Peanuts, dry-roasted||166||14.1 g|
|Pecans, dry-roasted||201||21.1 g|
|Pistachios, dry-roasted||162||13 g|
|Walnuts, halved||185||18.5 g|
How about nut oils? Are they healthy, too?
Though nut oils are also a good source of healthy nutrients, they lack the fiber found in whole nuts. For example, walnut oil is the highest in omega-3s.
Try using nut oils in homemade salad dressing or cooking. When cooking with nut oils, keep in mind that they respond differently to heat than vegetable oils. Nut oils can become bitter if overheated. Use nut oils in moderation, as they are high in fat and calories.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, the USA, obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”