Are nuts good for your heart?


nuts on oatmeal
Eating nuts provides a variety of health benefits.

Texas has a long history of producing flavorful, nutritious nuts for people to enjoy locally and abroad. The pecan tree is our state tree, and it grows in about 180 Texas counties. Texas also ranks fourth among peanut-producing states, though peanuts technically are a legume, not a nut.

Almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, and other types of nuts are nutritional powerhouses that provide a variety of health benefits. Fiber and protein help you feel full longer while other properties can help reduce your risk for heart disease. Eating nuts is an easy way for people who are not allergic to improve their health.

Let’s take a look at why nuts are good for you and how to incorporate them into your meals and snacks.

Why are nuts heart-healthy?

2015 meta-analysis of 61 controlled intervention studies suggests that consumption of any kind of tree nut lowers total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), Apolipoprotein B (ApoB), and triglycerides. These four lipoproteins transport fats through the body in the bloodstream. Lowering your levels of these lipoproteins can help improve heart health.  

Interestingly, the reduction in ApoB was more noticeable in people with Type 2 diabetes. It has been proposed that the unique balance of poly- and monounsaturated fats, magnesium, and phytonutrients found in nuts improves blood glucose and endothelial function, which affects how well the lining of blood vessels dilate or constrict depending on the body’s needs.

The effects of seeds and peanuts were not evaluated in the meta-analysis. However, research has shown that, due to their similar nutrient profile, eating them also is beneficial for heart health. A study published in 2011 suggests that eating tree nuts and peanuts can help decrease the prevalence of certain risk factors for metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

How to choose and use nuts in your meals

It is important to avoid nuts and nut foods that are high in sodium. “Low-sodium” is defined as less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Read food labels to be sure the nuts you choose rank at or below this range for sodium content. It’s easy to find tastier, healthier alternatives to highly salted nuts because there are unsalted or lightly salted versions of most nuts available. In fact, some flavored varieties, such as wasabi-flavored nuts, also are low in sodium, which often surprises people.

If you have a sweet tooth, several varieties of cocoa-covered nuts also are low in sugar. That’s cocoa-covered, not chocolate-covered – there’s a difference! While there is no FDA definition for low-sugar foods, low-sugar generally means less than 6 grams to 7 grams of sugar per serving. Again, check your nutrition labels and remember that sugar can be listed under a variety of names, including golden syrup, corn syrup solids, and names that end in -ose (glucose, dextrose, fructose, etc.).

Nuts also are easy to include in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They store well in airtight containers for up to three months or can be frozen for up to six months.

Try a few of my favorite ways to incorporate nuts into your meals:

  • Use nuts to replace bacon and cheese for crunch and flavor.
  • Add nuts to cooked or cold cereal. Try adding flaxseeds and walnuts to oatmeal, for example.
  • Top salads with walnuts or sliced almonds for texture and taste.
  • Replace your mid-morning or afternoon snack with nuts – approximately one ounce or ¼ cup will help curb your appetite until your next meal.
  • Sprinkle nuts on top of cooked vegetables or whole grains. Try sprinkling pine nuts on broiled Brussels sprouts, or top brown rice with walnut pieces for added flavor.
  • Add crushed almonds or pecans to carrot or cauliflower soup to increase flavor and add texture.
  • Mix cashew pieces into stir-fry for extra crunch and a boost of nutrients.

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