February is American Heart Month. Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. While following a heart-healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, one particularly beneficial food item is nuts! In fact, research shows that people who regularly eat nuts are less likely to have heart attacks (or die from heart disease) than those who rarely eat them. Interestingly, the FDA now 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.” You might be wondering what do nuts contain that make them so good for your heart? Well, in addition to being a great source of protein, nuts contain many heart-healthy nutrients including:
- Unsaturated fats. Nuts are comprised of almost 80% fat, mostly “good” fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Omega-3 fatty. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (such as salmon and mackerel), but many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s may prevent the development of erratic heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. These fatty acids may also prevent blood clots (the same way aspirin does).
- Fiber. All nuts contain fiber, which helps you feel full, so you eat less. But fiber may also help to lower your cholesterol and is also thought to play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E may prevent the development of plaque in your arteries. Plaque build-up can cause a narrowing of the arteries, and 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 levels. Plant sterols are sometimes 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, an amino acid that may help improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots.
As you can see, there are many ways nuts can benefit your heart. Just remember, nuts are high in calories. At an average of 185 calories per ounce, it’s important to limit portions to a small handful or approximately 1 oz. per day.
(1) CDC Features. (2016, February 10). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth/index.html
(2) Guasch-Ferré, M., Liu, X., Malik, V. S., Sun, Q., Willett, W. C., Manson, J. E., . . . Bhupathiraju, S. N. (2017). Nut Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(20), 2519-2532. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2017.09.035
(3) Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health – Mayo … (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/ART-20046635
(4) Nuts for the Heart. (2017, December 07). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nuts-for-the-heart/