By Dr. Philip Goglia – WBC Nutrition Committee Chairman.
Tree nuts offer an incredible energy source. One way nuts may help your heart health is by lowering the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels. LDL plays a major role in the development of plaque that builds up on the blood vessels. Eating more nuts has also been linked to lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease.
Eating nuts may also reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of your arteries. Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:
Unsaturated fats- It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids- Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many kinds of fish, but many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help your heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks.
Fiber- All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol. Fiber makes you feel full, so you eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin E- Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
Plant sterols- Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower your cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
L-arginine- Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow. Report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adults who incorporate nuts into their diets don’t have to excessively limit their consumption. A review of 31 studies about eating nuts found that people who added nuts to their diets and who replaced other foods with nuts lost more weight (an average 1.4 pounds more) and reduced their waist sizes by more than half an inch. “Although the magnitude of these effects was modest, the results allay the fear that nut consumption may promote obesity,” wrote the researchers, according to Reuters Health. “Our findings support the inclusion of nuts in healthy diets for cardiovascular prevention.” But weight loss isn’t the only benefit found in almonds, walnuts, cashews and the like.
Here are a few other health reasons to chow down on the snack:
Stress Reduction- Of course nuts can’t make your deadline or huge credit card bill go away, but the nutrients in several types of nuts can help protect your body against the damaging physical effects of being stressed out. One study looked at nuts rich in alpha-linolenic acid, like walnuts, and found that they had a heart-protective benefit during times of acute stress — which are known to cause cardiovascular strain. And almonds, thanks to high vitamin E, vitamin B and magnesium content can bolster your immune system when you’re stressed, reported Women’s Health.
Heart Health- Nuts, like almonds, hazel nuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts and cashews can all play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. That’s because nuts may help reduce LDL cholesterol (more on that later), and incorporate a dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and fiber, which has a heart-protective effect. Nuts are also rich in arginine, an amino acid that converts to nitric oxide in the body and helps blood vessels to relax.
Lung Cancer- A diet rich in pistachios may provide some protection from lung cancer, according to preliminary research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference. The researchers theorize that the nut’s richness in gamma-tocopherol, a type of vitamin E, may be the key to cancer protection, although further research is required.
Weight Maintenance- The 2013 review of nut health benefits found a modest improvement in overall weight, but several studies have found that nuts can play a role in weight maintenance. That’s because nuts are satisfying — a “high satiety” food — that is metabolized slowly by the body, thanks to high fiber counts. In other words? Those who snack, are more satisfied after eating nuts than after eating foods of comparable caloric value, but less nutrient density.
Cholesterol- A walnut a day may keep bad cholesterol away, according to a 2010 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine that found a 7.4 percent reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol and an 8.3 percent reduction in the ratio of LDL to HDL. What’s more, triglyceride concentrations declined by more than 10 percent.
Prostate Cancer- Brazil nuts, which are high in the mineral selenium, may provide some protection against advanced prostate cancer, according to preliminary research presented at the American Association of Cancer Research. The research was conducted on a Dutch cohort study and found that men with high levels of selenium, tested from toe nails, were 60 percent less likely develop advanced prostate cancer within 17 years. Brain Health- Thanks to the healthy dose of vitamin E that nuts can deliver, they are considered a brain food — helping to prevent cognitive decline that happens with age. Peanuts (even though they are legumes, we commonly group them with nuts), in particular, may be a good choice because they are high in the B-vitamin folate, which improves neural health, reducing risk of cognitive decline. Beyond protecting against age-associated problems, a British Journal of Nutrition study found that walnuts may improve working memory (not just reference memories), problem-solving and motor function — at least in rats!
Men’s Reproductive Health- For men looking to start a family, walnuts may have an effect on sperm quality. Eating about two handfuls of nuts, one UCLA study found, could improve the quality of sperm, in terms of its “vitality, motility, and morphology,” the researchers reported. What’s more, pistachios may play a role in reducing erectile dysfunction, according to a study in the International Journal of Impotence Research.