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Walnuts Improve Cholesterol Levels

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"Except for almonds, no other nut has been as well studied as walnuts," Sabaté tells WebMD. "In a couple of studies, almonds have been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL levels without changing ["good" cholesterol]. They showed very similar results to our study. It's a reasonable assumption that any nuts from the same group could have that effect, but as a scientist, I cannot say so. Research has to be done to prove this."

His study also helps quiet a controversy in nut research. "It has been suspected that nuts, because they are high in polyunsaturated fat, could actually increase LDL ["bad" cholesterol] levels. However, we did not observe [this] in the walnut diet," says Sabaté.

In fact, he adds, "by incorporating a few walnuts a day into a typical Western diet, we can expect even greater benefits -- if saturated fat is replaced by walnuts."

Besides, adds Sabaté, walnut patties and meatballs are crunchier, with richer texture and flavor than their beef-based counterparts. "My wife makes walnut balls and almond balls instead of meatballs and, to me, they are far more tasty than meatballs."

In reviewing the study, Ronald Krauss, MD, member and past chairman of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, tells WebMD, "Can people gobble a bunch of walnuts and get similar results? I don't think we can say that."

Krauss brings up another issue. "Obesity is entering the picture more and more as a major contributor not only to heart disease but also diabetes. Nuts are rich in fat and high in calories, so we always have to temper our enthusiasm. If you eat too many nuts, you get too many calories. And that's always a caution."

Vital Information:

  • A recent study shows that a Mediterranean diet that includes a handful of walnuts each day can lower "bad" cholesterol even more than the same diet without the nuts.
  • Researchers believe that walnut oil could have positive effects on cholesterol, but it has not been studied.
  • Also, in other studies, almonds have been found to have some benefit.
  • One expert cautions that walnuts are rich in fat and calories.
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