How do you halve your risk of developing heart disease? By eating a handful of nuts (30g) five or more times a week! Tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts are packed full of beneficial nutrients for heart health. Eating nuts regularly, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and a lifestyle that includes exercise is one tasty prescription to help lower blood cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy heart.
Why are nuts so heart healthy?
Studies show enjoying a handful of nuts every day can significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Even those who eat nuts once a week have less risk of developing heart disease than those who don’t eat any nuts. It seems frequent nut consumption is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers, which may partially explain the lower risk of both heart disease and diabetes. In general, you can achieve an 8.3% reduction in risk of death from coronary heart disease with each weekly serving of nuts.
Nuts are a rich source of healthy fats
Nuts are a healthy, high-fat food in a fat-phobic world, but there’s no need to avoid all fats in your diet. Eating a variety of nuts will help provide the right balance of healthy fats in your daily eating plan. Healthy fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats which can help regulate blood cholesterol. Nuts high in monounsaturated fat include macadamias, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews and pistachios. Nuts high in polyunsaturated fat include walnuts, pine nuts and Brazil nuts.
Nuts contain plant omega-3s
Plant omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and macadamias. These nuts are one of the few plant sources of omega-3s. This short chain omega-3, called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), has strong heart health properties. Long chain omega-3s are mostly found in fish and seafood and are also required for heart health.
Nuts regulate cholesterol
A meta-analysis combining the results of 25 nut and cholesterol-lowering studies found that around two handfuls of nuts (67g) on average each day significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol by 5% and 7% respectively. This is supported by two other meta-analyses, which focused specifically on almonds and walnuts, that found that eating just a handful a day still significantly lowered total and LDL cholesterol.
Nuts reduce cholesterol oxidization
A Traditional Mediterranean Diet (TMD), including 30g per day of nuts, has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation when compared to a low-fat diet. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is a key step in atherosclerosis – the blocking and hardening of arteries. Cholesterol oxidation-reduction is particularly effective through almonds, Brazil nuts and pistachios.
Nuts reduce inflammation
Studies have shown that eating nuts has anti-inflammatory effects. Antioxidants and other phytochemicals play an important role in reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation is thought to cause many chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Nuts are a natural source of plant sterols
These are substances which can help to lower cholesterol levels in the blood by reducing cholesterol re-absorption in the intestines. Mixed nuts, in general, contain around 126mg plant sterols per 100g.
Nuts are a source of arginine
Nuts contain arginine, an amino acid building block of protein which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to relax and remain elastic. Hardening of the arteries and blood clotting can lead to heart disease.
Nuts contain folate
Folate is a B vitamin that helps reduce high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Most tree nuts contain small amounts of folate as one of a number of heart-healthy nutrients.
Nuts contain fibre
All nuts contribute fibre to the diet. There are two types of fibre in foods: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre helps reduce blood cholesterol by reducing cholesterol reabsorption in the intestines, excreting it from the body. Insoluble fibre helps maintain a healthy bowel function. Nuts with skins, such as Almonds, Hazelnuts and Peanuts, are particularly high in fibre.
Nuts are cholesterol free
Nuts are a plant food, they are naturally free of dietary cholesterol. However, dietary cholesterol does not have as much influence on blood cholesterol levels as the amount of saturated fat you eat. Nuts have a lower proportion of saturated fat and a higher proportion of healthy fats, which helps explain their heart health effects. This is good news for people who already have high blood cholesterol levels and need to monitor their saturated fat intake.
Nuts are a rich source of antioxidants and phytochemicals
Nuts contain a variety of antioxidants including Vitamin E, selenium, copper, manganese, plus phytochemicals such as flavonoids, resveratrol and ellagic acid. These protective plant compounds maintain the health of blood vessels, reduce the risk of congested arteries and have an anti-inflammatory action. Just like fruits and vegetables, the specific content of plant compounds varies from nut to nut, so eating a variety of nuts is key.
Tips for including nuts in your diet:
- Mix nuts with dried fruit for a healthy snack.
- Add cashews or dry roasted almonds to a stir fry or curry.
- Crush hazelnuts or Brazil nuts and mix them with breadcrumbs and your favourite herbs to make a crunchy
topping for fish or chicken.
- Roast macadamias or pine nuts and toss them through a salad.
- Include pecans and walnuts in home-made muffins.
- Add chopped pistachios or pine nuts to your favourite pasta sauce.
- Crush nuts over fresh fruit and yoghurt.
- Roast chestnuts for a delicious winter treat.
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