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The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Nuts

Nuts aren't just for holidays anymore. Key nuts can help you lower cholesterol. Add nuts to your low-cholesterol diet.
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Almonds

Many studies show that almonds have real health benefits too. Like other nuts, they are high in protein, fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, minerals, and other nutrients. They are also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant.

One researcher, David Jenkins MD, has done many studies of the effects of almonds. In a study, he tested 27 men and women with high cholesterol over three months. People who ate about a handful of almonds a day lowered their bad LDL cholesterol by 4.4%. Those who ate two handfuls lowered it by 9.4%. The results were published in the journal Circulation.

Jenkins also studies the effects of almonds along with other cholesterol-lowering foods. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005, he and other researchers tested cholesterol-lowering drugs against cholesterol-lowering foods in a group of 34 adults with high cholesterol. Almonds, soy protein, legumes, oats, and fruits and vegetables were among the chosen foods. The results were striking. The diet lowered cholesterol levels about as well as cholesterol drugs.

Other Nuts

"Basically, nuts are good," Farrell tells WebMD. "They're high in vitamins, minerals, and good monounsaturated fat, which can lower cholesterol."

Along with almonds and walnuts, the FDA gave its qualified health claim to peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, and pistachios.

Many studies back up their benefits. For example, one small study compared a standard cholesterol-lowering diet with a diet that replaced one-fifth of the calories with pecans. When compared to the standard diet, the pecan diet lowered bad LDL cholesterol by 10.4% and decreased triglycerides by 11.1%. It also raised the levels of good HDL cholesterol by 5.6%. The results were published in The Journal of Nutrition.

Not all nuts offer equal benefits. The FDA cut Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts, and some varieties of pine nuts from the qualified health claim. This is because of their high fat content. But in moderation, even these nuts may have some of the same benefits.

For instance in one small study, 17 men with high cholesterol ate about 1.5 to 3.5 ounces of macadamia nuts each day. After four weeks, their total cholesterol dropped an average of 3% and their bad LDL cholesterol dropped 7%. The results were published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2003.

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Cholesterol Glossary

  • Dietary fiber - The parts of plants that your body can't digest. If eaten regularly, fiber such as oats, pectin, and psyllium reduces serum and LDL cholesterol.
  • HDL Cholesterol - The "good" cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol helps your body remove "bad" cholesterol from your arteries.
  • LDL Cholesterol - The "bad" cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol tends to be deposited in artery walls.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - A good-for-you polyunsaturated fat found in some fish and vegetables (salmon, flax seed, soybean, English walnuts, and canola oil).
  • Plant sterols - Found in plant foods, isolated from soybean and tall pine tree oils, they lower LDL "bad" cholesterol levels.

Which foods do you favor?