Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet may be good for your heart. Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients. And they're a great snack food — inexpensive, easy to store and easy to pack when you're on the go. One drawback to nuts is that they're high in calories, so it's important to limit portions. But choosing nuts instead of a less healthy snack may just help you stick to a heart-healthy diet.
What's in nuts that might make them heart healthy?
Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:
- Unsaturated fats. It's not entirely clear why, but it's thought that the "good" fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many kinds of fish, but many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help your heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks.
- Fibre. All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol. Fiber makes you feel full, so you eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can 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. Plant sterols are often 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, which is a substance that may help improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.
How Much Should I Have?
- One serving of nuts is about a ¼ cup or 60 mL. This amount should just fit into the palm of your hand.
- If you prefer to use nut butters or spreads, one serving is equal to 2 tablespoons. This amount is about the size of your two thumbs.
- Nuts are healthy choices, but be careful not to over do it. They are high in fat so the calories can add up quickly!
- Choose nuts that are raw or dry roasted (without oil) and free of added salt and sugar to make sure that you are picking the most heart healthy option.
- The type of nuts you choose to eat probably doesn't matter much. Most nuts appear to be generally healthy, though some may have more heart-healthy nutrients than others. For example, walnuts contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy.
- Keep in mind, you could end up canceling out the healthy benefits of nuts if they're covered with chocolate, sugar or salt.
Take a look at our chart alongside to see what healthy choices are available to you: Nuts - Healthy Choices.
Whatever you do - DO NOT eat peanuts. Whilst technically a legume, most people refer to them as nuts. Peanuts can contain a carcinogenic mould called aflatoxin and they are notorious for being of the most pesticide-contaminated crops around.
See more information on nuts: Protein: Nuts
For recipes to make nut butters, follow this link