Nuts Help Lower Bad Cholesterol

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Nuts get a bad rap. A lot of people still see them as salty, fatty, and high calorie — a junk food deserving exile to the carts of vendors or the snack bowls of dingy, smoky bars.

But nutritionists say that certain nuts deserve an honored spot in the kitchen of every healthy eater (as long as you’re not allergic, of course.) Nuts have lots of protein, fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, arteries and prevent LDL cholesterol by 4.4%. Those who ate two handfuls lowered it by 9.4%. The results were published in the journal Circulation.

Jenkins also studies the effects of almonds along with other cholesterol-lowering foods. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005, he and other researchers tested cholesterol-lowering drugs against cholesterol-lowering foods in a group of 34 adults with high cholesterol. Almonds, soy protein, legumes, oats, and fruits and vegetables were among the chosen foods. The results were striking. The diet lowered cholesterol levels about as well as .

Other Nuts

“>vitamins, minerals, and good monounsaturated fat, which can lower cholesterol.”

Along with almonds and walnuts, the FDA gave its qualified health claim to peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, and pistachios.

Many studies back up their benefits. For example, one small study compared a standard cholesterol-lowering diet with a diet that replaced one-fifth of the calories with pecans. When compared to the standard diet, the pecan diet lowered bad LDL cholesterol by 10.4% and decreased triglycerides by 11.1%. It also raised the levels of good HDL cholesterol by 5.6%. The results were published in The Journal of .

Not all nuts offer equal benefits. The FDA cut Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts, and some varieties of pine nuts from the qualified health claim. This is because of their high fat content. But in moderation, even these nuts may have some of the same benefits.

For instance in one small study, 17 men with high cholesterol ate about 1.5 to 3.5 ounces of macadamia nuts each day. After four weeks, their total cholesterol dropped an average of 3% and their bad LDL cholesterol dropped 7%. The results were published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2003.

Getting Nuts Into Your Diet

Nuts are easy to work into your meal plan. Some nuts traditionally come still in the shell. But you can buy most of them pre-shelled at a grocery store. They don’t need any preparation. Just eat a handful as a snack or add them to a trail mix. You don’t need very many anyway.

You can also use nuts as a condiment. Sprinkle them on your salad, cereal, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, or entrees, suggest Keecha Harris, DrPh, RD and Ruth Frechman, RD, both spokeswomen for the ADA. Use nuts in pasta salads or in hot soups.

However, don’t get seduced by anything less than a pure nut. “When you’re choosing nuts, make sure to get them raw and unsalted,” Farrell tells WebMD. Honey-roasted, chocolate covered, and other candied nuts give you extra calories that you don’t need.

How Much Do You Need?

You can get the health benefits of nuts from just a handful a day. About 1 to 1.5 ounces is plenty, experts say. The high protein and fiber in nuts make them very filling. Make sure you don’t overdo it.

“Although nuts have a lot of benefits, they’re also high in calories that can add up fast,” says Farrell. Gaining weight is likely to undo any of the -healthy effects of these foods.

The best way to add nuts to your diet is to use them to replace less healthy fats — like saturated fats in meats. That way you’re gaining the benefits of nuts without adding more calories.