Nuts and your heart

Nuts  and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health

Eating  nuts helps your heart. Discover how walnuts, almonds and other nuts
help lower your cholesterol when eaten as part of a balanced diet.

By  Mayo Clinic staff

nuts as part of a healthy diet can be good for your heart. Nuts, which  contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients, are a great snack  food, too. They’re inexpensive, easy to store and easy to take with you  to work or school.

The  type of nut you eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more  heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Walnuts, almonds,  hazelnuts — you name it — almost every type of nut  has a lot of nutrition packed into a tiny package. If you have heart  disease, eating nuts instead of a less healthy snack can help you more  easily follow a heart-healthy diet.

Can  eating nuts help your heart?

People  who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the LDL,  low-density lipoprotein or “bad,” cholesterol level in their blood.  High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease.

Eating  nuts reduces your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal  heart attack. Nuts also improve the health of the lining of your  arteries. The evidence for the heart-healthy benefits of nuts isn’t
rock solid — the Food and Drug Administration only allows  food companies to say evidence “suggests but does not prove” that  eating nuts reduces heart disease risk.

What’s  in nuts that’s thought to be heart healthy?

Although  it varies by nut, most nuts contain at least some of these  heart-healthy substances:

    • Unsaturated  fats.
      It’s  not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts  — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats —  lower bad cholesterol levels.
    • Omega-3  fatty acids.
      Many  nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form  of fatty acids that seem to help your heart by, among other things,  preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks.  Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are  one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Fiber.
      All  nuts contain fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol. Fiber also  makes you feel full, so you eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a  role in preventing diabetes.
    • Vitamin  E.
      Vitamin  E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries, which can  narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can lead to chest  pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
    • Plant  sterols.
      Some  nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower your  cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine  and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur  naturally in nuts.
    • L-arginine.
      Nuts  are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help  improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible  and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.


What amount of nuts is considered healthy?

Nuts  contain a lot of fat; as much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even  though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories.  That’s why you should eat nuts in moderation. Ideally, you should use
nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products.

Instead  of eating unhealthy saturated fats, try substituting a handful of nuts.  According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating about a handful  (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds,  hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts,  may reduce your risk of heart disease. But again, do this as part of a  heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated  fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do your heart any good.

Does it matter what kind of nuts you eat?

Possibly. Most nuts appear to be generally healthy, though some more so than  others. Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it’s been shown  they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia  nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart  healthy. Even peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a  legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy. Coconut,  which is technically a fruit, may be considered by some to be a nut,  but it doesn’t seem to have heart-healthy benefits. Both coconut meat  and oil don’t have the benefits of the mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Keep  in mind, you could end up canceling out the heart-healthy benefits of  nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar or salt.

Here’s  some nutrition information on common types of nuts. All calorie and fat  content measurements are for 1 ounce, or 28.4 grams (g), of unsalted  nuts.

Type of nut Calories Total fat  (saturated/unsaturated fat)*
Almonds, raw 163 14 g (1.1 g/12.2 g)
Almonds, dry roasted 169 15 g (1.1 g/12.9 g)
Brazil nuts, raw 186 19 g (4.3 g/12.8 g)
Cashews, dry roasted 163 13.1 g (2.6 g/10 g)
Chestnuts, roasted 69 0.6 g (0.1 g/0.5 g)
Hazelnuts (filberts), raw 178 17 g (1.3 g/15.2 g)
Hazelnuts (filberts), dry roasted 183 17.7 g (1.3 g/15.6 g)
Macadamia nuts, raw 204 21.5 g (3.4 g/17.1 g)
Macadamia nuts, dry roasted 204 21.6 g (3.4 g/17.2 g)
Peanuts, dry roasted 166 14 g (2g/11.4 g)
Pecans, dry roasted 201 21 g (1.8 g/18.3 g)
Pistachios, dry roasted 161 12.7 g (1.6 g/10.5 g)
Walnuts, halved 185 18.5 g (1.7 g/15.9 g)

*The  saturated and unsaturated fat contents in each nut may not add up to the total fat content because the fat value may also include some  nonfatty acid material, such as sugars or phosphates.

How about nut oils? Are they healthy, too?

Nut  oils are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, but they  lack the fiber found in whole nuts. Walnut oil is the highest in  omega-3s. Nut oils contain saturated as well as unsaturated fats.
Consider using nut oils in homemade salad dressing or in cooking. When  cooking with nut oils, remember that they respond differently to heat  than do vegetable oils. Nut oil, if overheated, can become bitter. Just  like with nuts, use nut oil in moderation, as the oils are high in fat  and calories


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