Although their relatively high fat content has historically given nuts a bad name, the facts suggest that nuts could be part of a plan for optimal cardiovascular health.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Maybe because of their high oil content or their inclusion in so many sinful foods, nuts are often considered to be bad for you. However, researchers know that when chosen properly and eaten in moderation, snacking on nuts is good for the heart.
Containing varying amounts of healthful substances, nuts support the cardiovascular system with sterols, fiber, beneficial fats, amino acids and antioxidants. Most nuts contain some quantities of the following:
- L-Arginine – An amino acid that relaxes the blood vessels and prevents blood from clotting, L-Arginine occurs naturally in peanuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews and pistachios.
- Fiber – In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, the fiber found in all nuts also helps people feel full – thus reducing appetite.
- Unsaturated Fats – Nuts contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower overall cholesterol levels.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – One of the best plant sources of Omega-3s, nuts containing this fatty acid benefit the heart by lowering blood pressure, preventing dangerous heart rhythms, lowering triglycerides, increasing HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and preventing the blood from clotting. Of all the nuts, walnuts contain the highest proportion of Omega-3s.
- Plant Sterols – When consumed on a regular basis, plant sterols prevent the absorption of cholesterol into the body. Added to some foods like margarine and orange juice for their health benefits, walnuts, almonds and peanuts are known to be naturally high in plant sterols.
- Vitamin E – Oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol) is implicated in inflammation and plaque buildup inside blood vessels that causes hardening of the arteries. Vitamin E is believed to help prevent or delay coronary heart disease because it limits the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. Almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts are especially high in Vitamin E.
Capable of convincing more Americans to consume nuts, the following studies condone nut snacking as part of a cardiovascular-healthful diet:
- Researchers at Loma Linda University in California found that when part of a normal healthy diet, eating a packet of peanuts or mixed nuts helps keep cholesterol levels down. In their study of 583 people, those who routinely ate 67 grams (about one packet) of peanuts a day had seven percent lower cholesterol than those who ate no nuts.
- Researchers from Purdue University also demonstrated that chronic peanut consumption benefits cardiac health. After studying 15 healthy men and women for 30 weeks, they found that peanut consumption reduced serum triglyceride levels by up to 24 percent.
- Researchers from Pennsylvania State University established that pistachios reduce the risk for heart disease by lowering lipids and reducing oxidation of LDL-cholesterol.
- Researchers from Madrid, Spain found that eating walnuts with meat reduced cardiovascular disease risk by lowering total cholesterol by an average of 4.5 percent more than eating meat without walnuts.
While eating nuts offers those hoping to improve their cardiovascular health a clear advantage, there are several ways to cancel out nuts’ beneficial properties. Consider these three pointers to keep your nut snacking healthy:
- Substitute – With a handful of nuts containing about 150 calories, they should be substituted for other foods instead of simply added to a high caloric diet.
- Plain – Eat nuts that are plain, because nuts with a sugary coating add more calories while nuts with salt raise blood pressure.
- Skip Brazil – There is a reason that Brazil nuts taste heavenly and rich. Minimize consumption of Brazil nuts because they have a relatively large amount of saturated fat compared to other nuts.
There are plenty of heart healthy reasons to choose nuts over other snacks. Besides being filling and reducing overall appetite, the substances inside nuts support blood vessel elasticity, minimize blood clots and help improve blood lipid profile. As long as you don’t overindulge, a handful of nuts each day are just what a progressive, knowledgeable heart doctor might order.
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