Role Of Nuts In A Heart-Healthy Diet
Lisa Kirkman, M.S., R.D. | April 2005

For years, many doctors have told their patients that nuts such as cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, or pecans should not be included in a heart-healthy diet because they are high in fat and calories. But recently this recommendation has changed, based on new research and science.

In the April 2001 issue of Nutrition Reviews, a research article entitled "The Effects of Nuts on Coronary Heart Disease Risk" reviewed five epidemiological studies involving daily nut consumption and a decreased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) (1). The research demonstrated the benefits of nuts-even though they are high in fat.

Why are nuts so good?

First, not all fats are created equal. You probably know that reducing saturated fats (primarily from animal sources) and polyunsaturated fats (primarily from safflower, sunflower, and corn oils) is beneficial for heart health; on the other hand, increasing monounsaturated fats, primarily from olive and canola oils, is also healthy. The challenge for anyone interested in a healthy diet is figuring out how to eat the right amount of these oils for optimal health while consuming a variety of foods and controlling calories. One way of eating that balances oil intake is the Mediterranean diet.

Second, nuts come complete in a very nutritious package. They are a rich source of unsaturated fats as well as a source of plant protein, fiber, numerous bioactive substances such as flavonoids, plus vitamins and minerals. Studies on the reduction of CAD have examined walnuts, almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, and pistachio nuts, and have shown that one ounce of nuts two to seven times per week will contribute to a 1.3-4.8% decrease in CAD. The variety of nutrients contained in nuts suggests that the positive effects on CAD may be achieved through a series of mechanisms instead of just a single effect. One benefit may be due to the cholesterol-lowering effect of daily nut consumption, which may lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Research on the flavonoid, vitamin, and mineral content in nuts is ongoing and should provide additional information.

The journal article concluded that a heart-healthy diet should include nuts. How can you add the benefit of nuts to a daily diet without adding too many calories? Here are a few suggestions that may help:
  • Add 1 oz. of nuts to your cereal or salad.
  • Add ground nuts to soups, sauces, or gravies.
  • Toss together a mixture of dried fruits, nuts, small crackers, or pretzels for snacking-kids especially like this.
  • Grab some almonds, a bottle of water, and an apple when running out the door and missing a meal-much better than stopping for a burger and fries!

  1. Kris-Etherton PM et. al. The effects of nuts on coronary heart disease risk. Nutrition Reviews 59(4):103-11, 2001.
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