We've been told that adding nuts to your diet can help fight high cholesterol. OK, but how do they really help? What makes them so special? We're probably just scratching the surface here, but we found some interesting relationships between heart health and nuts, specifically almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios provide you with healthy fats. Almonds are rich in monounsaturated fats, which have been associated with improvements in cardiovascular health. These fats can help lower LDL cholesterol levels when they replace saturated or trans fats in the diet.
Walnuts are an excellent source of polyunsaturated fats, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their heart-protective properties. ALA has been shown to reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, which is considered the "bad" cholesterol. Additionally, it may help decrease triglycerides and reduce the risk of blood clot formation, which can be beneficial for cardiovascular health.
In addition to ALA, walnuts also contain other essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3s are known for their anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective effects. They can help reduce inflammation in blood vessels and improve their function, potentially reducing the risk of cardiovascular events.
Pistachios are a little bit of both worlds. They contain a combination of healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Consuming pistachios as part of a heart-healthy diet has been linked to lower LDL cholesterol levels and improved overall lipid profiles. Pistachios contain Omega-3 fatty acids as well, but not as much as walnuts do.
On top of having healthy fats, these three nuts are also excellent sources of dietary fiber. Fiber plays a crucial role in cholesterol management by binding to cholesterol molecules in the digestive tract and facilitating their elimination from the body. This can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Nuts are also rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E and various phytochemicals. These antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the arteries, which is a key factor in cardiovascular health.
Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, contain plant sterols as well. These compounds structurally resemble cholesterol and can compete with dietary cholesterol for absorption in the intestines. As a result, they can reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed into the bloodstream.
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for managing cholesterol levels and nuts can help here too. While nuts are calorie-dense, they can promote a sense of fullness and satiety due to their healthy fats and fiber content. Including nuts in your diet can help you feel satisfied, potentially reducing overall calorie intake and aiding in weight management.
It's important to incorporate almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and other nuts into a well-balanced diet and portion control. You don’t need a lot either. A small handful of nuts (about 1 ounce or 28 grams) per day is considered a healthy serving. To maximize their health benefits, choose unsalted and unsweetened varieties, as added salt and sugar can counteract some of their positive effects.
Of course, changing just your diet is usually not enough for managing high cholesterol, especially if you already have significantly high cholesterol or a family history. It's crucial to get professional help from your physician or a registered dietitian to create a comprehensive plan that includes dietary modifications, regular physical activity, and, if needed, medication to effectively manage high cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular risk. It’s just great to know that you can enjoy what you eat and help your heart too!
What to learn more? Here are a few sources to start with.