Heart Health in a Nutshell
Because nuts are high in fat, they've been banished to the tiny tip of the Food Pyramid along with other oily outcasts. Nuts, however, are also loaded with protein and other nutrients, and numerous studies are linking these tasty little morsels with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and especially heart disease.
Harvard University researchers studying the health habits of physicians and nurses over many years found that those whose diets included the most nuts had the lowest risk of dying from heart disease during the study — even after taking into account other risk factors for heart disease, such as exercise, smoking, weight, use of vitamin supplements and diet. The mono– and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts are speculated to be responsible for their cholesterol–lowering effects, especially if nuts are substituted for artery–clogging saturated fat.
Other studies have shown that nuts may help lower LDL–cholesterol (bad cholesterol), in particular. Some nuts are also high in alpha–linolenic acid, a fatty acid that has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Nuts contain heart–healthy dietary fiber, vitamins E and folic acid, and the minerals copper, selenium and magnesium, which may also play a role.
Which nuts offer the most benefit and how many are recommended have yet to be determined. And despite their potential health benefits, nuts still pack a lot of fat and calories. A quarter-cup of most nuts contains 200–240 calories and 15–20 grams of fat. The best bet is to include a variety of different nuts into your diet and substitute them for fatty snacks and meats.
Next time you're snacking, grab a handful of peanuts instead of chips. Add a sprinkle of walnuts to your favorite pasta recipe and cut back on the meat. Cashews are great in chicken dishes, pecans taste fabulous on pancakes, and almonds add flavor and crunch to salads.