A high-fat food that's good for your health? You betcha!
Almonds and walnuts sit at the top of the heap for nutrition, but other nuts are healthy, too, including pistachios, pecans, and cashews. Nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats as are found in olive oil, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Five large human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Health Study, the Adventist Health Study, and the Physicians Health Study, all found that nut consumption is linked to a lower risk for heart disease.
Researchers who studied data from the Nurses Health Study estimated that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30% reduction in heart disease risk.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition indicates that when foods independently known to lower cholesterol, such as almonds, are combined in a healthy way of eating, the beneficial effects are additive. In this study of 12 patients with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, a diet containing almonds and other nuts, plant sterols (also found in nuts), soy protein, and soluble fiber (in high amounts in beans, oats, pears) reduced blood levels of all LDL fractions including small dense LDL (the type that most increases risk for cardiovascular disease) with near maximal reductions seen after only 2 weeks.
In addition to their cholesterol-lowering effects, nuts' ability to reduce heart disease risk may also be partly due to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found, as well as to the LDL-lowering effect of monounsaturated fats. In addition to healthy fats and vitamin E, a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 99 mg of magnesium (that's 24.7% of the daily value for this important mineral), plus 257 mg of potassium.
Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart.
Potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, is another mineral that is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Nuts promote your cardiovascular health by providing 257 mg of potassium and only 0.3 mg of sodium, making them an especially good choice to in protecting against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
Walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts have the highest antioxidant content of the tree nuts, with walnuts topping out the others in antioxidant content. And, peanuts (although technically, a legume) also contribute significantly to our dietary intake of antioxidants.Even more impressive were the results of a review study of the evidence linking nuts and lower risk of coronary heart disease. Subjects consuming nuts at least 4 times a week showed a 37% reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who never or seldom ate nuts. Each additional serving of nuts per week was associated with an average 8.3% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.