Say nuts to heart health

December 13, 2010

Nuts are a good source of nutrients

Nuts: a very sane way to lower your cholesterol

The studies about how good nuts are for us just keep piling up. And it's not just because nuts pack a lot of good nutrition into a small shell. According to the Mayo Clinic, most scientists agree that nuts offer a number of things that are not only good for our bodies, but also our hearts.

Note: when we talk about healthy nuts, we're talking about the raw, unsalted kind. Salted, honey-roasted or otherwise gussied-up nuts? You're better off saying "not" to those.

Walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews: to know these nuts is to love these nuts - some of them with all your heart

It seems that the best nuts for general health and nutrition are walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews, with the Mayo Clinic listing walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts as the best for our hearts. Here are more details:

Walnuts — High levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, the same kinds that are in fish like tuna and salmon, help lower triglycerides, which are a kind of fat we build up in our bloodstreams. The Mayo Clinic says Omega-3 acids seem to help keep our hearts from falling into unhealthy rhythms that lead to heart attacks.

Almonds— Besides being high in protein, almonds are high in antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamin E. One 2002 study showed that "bad" LDL cholesterol went down 4 percent in people who ate a handful of almonds a day, and dropped more than 9 percent in people who ate two handfuls a day.

Brazil nuts — Not long ago, a University of Illinois study showed that Brazil nuts may help prevent breast cancer. They're also a great source of a "super antioxidant" called selenium, which has been shown to help protect our bodies' healthy cells from attacks by cells that open the door to heart disease and other kinds of cancer.

Cashews — Iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium: all these important things are found in the cashew nut.

Want more good "nut-rition" news?

Here are a few more facts about nuts and health:

Many studies have now found that people who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet have lower levels of "bad," a.k.a. "LDL" ("low density lipoprotein") cholesterol.

In a U.S. Physicians Study, Harvard scientists found that women who ate at least 5.25 ounces of nuts each week were 35 percent less likely to have heart attacks than women who ate less than an ounce of nuts in a month.

Note: five ounces of nuts is about a good-sized handful. Since they also carry a lot of calories, don't go nuts with the amount you eat.

Still other research says that nuts are also big sources of something called L-arginine, which seems to help make our artery walls more flexible, which in turn makes it harder for blood clots to attach themselves there and block our arteries.

These, plus many other studies, have led The U.S. Food and Drug Administration to say that eating nuts may lower your chances of getting the blood clots that can cause a heart attack.

All in all, nuts are one of the best kinds of non-meat protein around. They're rich in fiber, antioxidants, healthy fat, and many nutrients. So think about having some nuts instead of meat. Since nuts do have a fair amount of calories, it's better to think of them as substitutes for things: like having peanut-butter toast instead of a meat sandwich.

And still another great thing? Nuts aren't just good for us; they're easy to get. They do, after all, grow on trees.

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