Eating Nuts to Help Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease

Snack on Nuts for Better Heart Health

Almonds
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Nuts are nutrient-dense snacks that contain protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Certain nuts are also high in "good" fats which can help lower your risk for heart disease.

Let's go a bit deeper into the nutritional content of nuts, including which nuts you should opt to munch on to optimize your heart health.

Nuts Are High in Fat, So How Do They Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease?

Nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, contain high amounts of unsaturated fat or “good” fats, which increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

LDL is a  “bad” cholesterol because it clogs up your arteries. This is why high LDL levels increase a person's risk of heart attacks and strokes.

HDL, on the other hand, is your "good" cholesterol because it carries "bad" cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver. Lower HDL levels are linked to heart disease whereas higher HDL levels may actually help prevent heart attacks and strokes. 

While nuts lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol, research suggests that the frequent eating of nuts benefits the heart beyond this cholesterol lowering.

In other words, nuts may provide other heart and overall health advantages by decreasing blood pressure and reducing visceral adiposity, which is the fat that surrounds your organs in your abdomen. Having too much visceral fat increases your chance of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

The health benefits of eating nuts are best studied in walnuts, a type of nut that is especially high in omega-3 fatty acids,  the same "good" fats found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna.

Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids have several heart benefits like:

  • Lowering your risk of abnormal heart rhythms that can cause sudden death
  • Decreasing triglyceride levels 
  • Slowing the rate of artery-clogging 
  • Slightly lowering blood pressure

Of course, besides unsaturated fats, there are other health benefits to nuts including: 

  • Folic acid, a B vitamin that reduces total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and is necessary for the formation of new cells
  • Potassium, a mineral that reduces the effects of sodium in your body, assists with the breakdown of carbohydrates and helps control your heart's electrical activity
  • Vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage by free radicals and maintains metabolic processes
  • Arginine, an amino acid found in high amounts in nuts that help your body make nitric oxide, which relaxes constricted blood vessels

The Best Nuts to Lower Your Cholesterol

All in all, the best nuts to lower your cholesterol have the highest amounts of unsaturated fats and the lowest amount of saturated fats. These include, but are not limited to:

Peanuts, too are heart-healthy, which may surprise you. In fact, the peanut is the most popular "nut" (really a legume) in the United States and contains high amounts of unsaturated fat and lower amounts of saturated fat.

The peanut's unsaturated fat profile encourages heart health. Even so, farmers have now developed a way to grow high-oleic peanuts, which have a higher content of unsaturated fat and lower content of saturated fat when compared with regular peanuts.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given approval for these nuts, in addition to almonds, to receive a ”heart-healthy” distinction on their labeling.

Finally, it's worthy to note that dry roasted, lightly salted nuts appear to have similar health benefits as eating raw nuts, according to a study in the European Journal of Nutrition. In this study, 72 participants consumed 30 grams per day of either raw or dry roasted, lightly salted hazelnuts for 28 days. Heart disease factors like cholesterol levels and blood pressure were measured at the beginning of the study and at the end.

Results revealed that compared to the beginning of the study, eating either form of hazelnuts (raw or dry roasted, lightly salted) significantly improved HDL levels and blood pressure, without a change in body fat. 

Nuts Are Heart Healthy, But in Moderation

Of course, like most foods, balance is key, meaning while eating nuts is good for your health, you do not want to overdo it. With that, according to the American Heart Association, if you are following a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, you should consume 4 to 5 servings a week of nuts, seeds, or legumes. A serving size is equivalent to a small handful (1.5 ounces of nuts) or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. 

A Word From Verywell

When packing your lunch or reaching into your pantry for a snack, grab a handful of nuts or slather some nut butter on an apple slice, instead of reaching for salty chips or crackers. You can even incorporate nuts into your other meals. Try stirring nuts into your oatmeal in the morning or a stir-fry at dinner. 

In the end, consuming nuts in moderation is a sensible healthy choice you can make for your heart—this is in addition to exercise, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and maintaining a normal weight. 

Sources:

American Heart Association. (2017). Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

American Heart Association. (2016). Go Nuts (But just a little!).

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (n.d.). The Nutrition Source: Nuts for the Heart

Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2010 Jul;2(7):652-82.

Tey SL, Robinson T, Gray AR, Chisholm AW. Brown RC. Do dry roasting, lightly salting nuts affect their cardioprotective properties and acceptability? Eur J Nutr. 2017 Apr;56(3):1025-36

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