Nuts get a bad rap. A lot of people still see them as salty, fatty, and high calorie -- a junk food deserving exile to the carts of vendors or the snack bowls of dingy, smoky bars.
But nutritionists say that certain nuts deserve an honored spot in the kitchen of every healthy eater (as long as you're not allergic, of course.) Nuts have lots of protein, fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. And many studies have shown that nuts have powerful cholesterol-lowering effects.
In a world of good and bad cholesterol, LDL is the bad one. LDL collects in the walls of blood vessels, causing the blockages of atherosclerosis. Higher LDL levels put you at greater risk for a heart attack from a sudden blood clot in an artery narrowed by atherosclerosis.
Getting your LDL cholesterol checked helps determine your risk for heart disease. If your LDL cholesterol is high, treatment can reduce your chance of having a heart attack.
The benefits were clear enough for the FDA in 2003 to issue a "qualified health claim" for peanuts and certain tree nuts -- almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts. The claim allows some nuts and foods made with them to carry this claim: "Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease."
So it's time to dust off your nutcrackers or pull the lid off a can of nuts. Taken in moderation, these nuts are good for you.
"Walnuts are great because they have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids," says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD. "Other nuts don't."
Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in fatty fish like tuna and salmon. We know that omega-3 fatty acids lower levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the bloodstream. Experts are not exactly sure how. Omega-3 fatty acids may also slow down the growth of plaques inthe arteries and prevent blood clots.
One 2004 study of 58 adults with diabetes looked at the effects of eating a handful of walnuts each day in addition to a healthy diet. The researchers found that on average, people who ate the walnuts had an increase in their good HDL cholesterol and a drop of 10% in their bad LDL cholesterol levels. The results were published in the journal Diabetes Care.
Walnuts received their own, separate qualified health claim from the FDA in 2004, stating that they may reduce the risk of heart disease.