Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet can be good for your heart. Nuts, which contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients, are a great snack food, too. They’re inexpensive, easy to store and easy to pack when you’re on the go.
The type of nut you eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts — you name it — almost every type of nut has a lot of nutrition packed into a tiny package. If you have heart disease, eating nuts instead of a less healthy snack can help you more easily follow a heart-healthy diet.
People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease.
Eating nuts may 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. 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. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
• 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 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.
As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why you should eat nuts in moderation. Ideally, you should use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products.
Instead of eating unhealthy saturated fats, try substituting a handful of nuts or a tablespoon or two of a nut spread. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week. Select raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil.
A serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do your heart any good.