Mother Nature provides pocket-sized sources of goodness for us to enjoy and nuts give you good reason to indulge in another handful. A plant food source that is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, healthy monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and nutrients, nuts have recently come under the spotlight for their contribution to heart health. Here are some good reasons to introduce them into your diet.
Nuts for Heart Health
While all tree and ground nuts have been recognized as offering a health boost to any diet, not all nuts are created equal and certain nuts have been singled out as superior. Just one ounce a day of peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, some pine nuts, pecan nuts, walnuts and pistachios can lower your chances of contracting heart disease. These nuts all carry a label endorsed by the FDA that they can help you to avoid heart disease if consumed in moderation. Significantly some pine nuts, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts and macadamia nuts were not included in this ruling, even though they also present a number of health benefits when consumed.
Even though macadamias were excluded, and it is probably owing to their very high fat levels, studies have also proven this nut to have the ability to lower cholesterol levels too. Made up of 86% monounsaturated fatty acid the studies carried out on macadamias posited the theory that nuts can chance the lipoprotein and serum lipid concentrations in the blood.
Nuts and Cholesterol Levels
Scientific studies that were carried out on control groups of participants have revealed that consuming nuts as part of a balanced eating plan can actively increase HDL cholesterol levels and decrease LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Nuts contain no dietary cholesterol and contain a useful combination of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
Nuts for Nutrition
Nuts are packed densely with nutrients for good health. They have small amounts of saturated fat and good levels of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They are good sources of soluble fiber, which lowers LDL cholesterol and can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the blood. They are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which have been proven to lower blood pressure and the chances of blood clots developing.
Nuts are rich in phytochemicals: phytoestrogens, phenolic compounds, flavonoids and ellagic acid. They provide a valuable source of minerals which are often found to be lacking in the Western diet such as:
In addition they also provide a great source of plant protein without the saturated fat that would be found in equivalent portions of meat and poultry. They also provide good amounts of folic acid, niacin, vitamin E and vitamin B6.
Toss Out Animal Fat for Plant Fat
While nuts can have as much as an 80% fat content, it is healthy fat that they offer. Because they also contribute a lot of calories to your daily quota you should look at fitting them into your diet as a substitute for an animal fat or processed food that you would normally consume in your diet. Instead of that cream or butter on your potato, top a crunchy salad with a handful of chopped nuts or skip the cheese in your sandwich for a handful of nuts and a fat-free yoghurt as a snack later on.
Snacking On Nuts
To get the full nutritional punch you need to eat the nuts raw and unsalted. Chocolate-covered, yoghurt-coated and roasted candy nuts do not have the same benefits. Nuts are handy to keep in a trail mix with some toasted oats and dried fruit for when you experience snack-attacks.
They can be added to cereals, mueslis, porridges and breakfast smoothies or they can be sprinkled over salads and soups. Crushed nuts and nut powders can add flavor and texture to sauces in hot dishes and are common ingredients in Eastern and Asian cooking. Nut butters and nut oils can also be incorporated into the diet for wholesome goodness.
Which Nuts Are The Best To Eat?
While all nuts appear to offer a number of health benefits walnuts have had the most research carried out and a lot is known about their nutritional composition. They are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids and have been proven to slow down the production of triglycerides in the blood, making them a great ingredient for a cholesterol-fighting menu.
They are believed to slow down the development of plaque in the blood vessels, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Studies have shown that consuming a handful of walnuts decreases bad or LDL cholesterol and increases good or HDL cholesterol levels. And the icing on the cake? – a study conducted by Harvard University in 2009 indicates that even though walnuts are high in fat content, the benefits of improving cholesterol levels does not come at the cost of excessive weight gain.
Almonds (and pistachios) offer the least amount of calories per serving and also give your diet a valuable vitamin E boost. A scientific study revealed that eating a handful of almonds daily lowered levels of LDL cholesterol and the results were proportional to the amount of consumed. Another study conducted by the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that the fiber content in almonds prevents the absorption of the fat in the nuts, making them an ideal candidate on the go-to snack list.
Like almonds, pistachios have very few calories – a single pistachio nut has just 3 calories in it. FDA guidelines suggest that eating 1.5 oz of nuts like the pistachio may reduce the risk of heart disease. A 2008 study reported by Science Daily suggests that in addition to lowering the bad cholesterol, pistachios also help increase antioxidants in the blood stream. Pistachios are high in Vitamin E, lutein and beta carotene; and are a great source of fiber, phosphorus, thiamin, and vitamin B6. For the most health benefits, eat them unsalted and unroasted.
Also known as filberts, these nuts are packed with antioxidants, folates and vitamins B1, B2 and B6. Not only does the high content of monounsaturated fats in hazelnuts help reduce bad cholesterol, but arginine, an amino acid found in these nuts can help relax the blood vessels, and the magnesium can lower blood pressure.
Research studies indicate that the vitamin E found in pecans is a a natural antioxidant that can prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and hence slow down plaque buildup. Like most other nuts on this list, the health benefits of pecans are not limited just to lowering bad cholesterol – they can protect us from age-related motor neuron degenration like ALS to weight loss and maintenance.
Overall, nuts are a great addition to your heart healthy diet plan. Next time a snack attack hits you reach for a bag of nuts instead of high cholesterol foods like chips and your heart will thank you for it!