An analysis of data from 25 nut consumption trials, involving close to 600 men and women with high or normal cholesterol levels, has revealed a link between eating nuts and improvements in blood cholesterol levels.
Nuts are rich in plant proteins, fats (especially unsaturated fatty acids), dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins and other compounds, such as antioxidants and phytoesterols.
Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Joan Sabaté and colleagues of Loma Linda University in California said: "Recently, consumption of nuts has been the focus of intense research because of their potential to reduce coronary heart disease risk and to lower blood lipid (fat and cholesterol) levels based on their unique nutritional attributes."
The authors explain that trial participants - none of whom were taking lipid-lowering medication - ate an average of 67 grams of nuts a day, which was linked to an average reduction of 7.4 percent in low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the so-called 'bad' cholesterol). Overall levels of cholesterol fell by 5.1 percent on average. In addition, triglyceride levels dropped by 10.2 percent among those with high triglyceride levels although not among those with lower levels.
"The effects of nut consumption were dose-related, and different types of nuts had similar effects on blood lipid levels", the authors write. However, they add that eating more nuts appeared to offer most benefit to people who had high levels of LDL cholesterol, but also a low body mass index, and those who ate Western diets.
Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Apart from salted peanuts at the pub, nuts in sugary cereals or the traditional Christmas selection, nuts have been largely lacking in our diets in the UK.
“What we eat is extremely important to our overall health, and adding nuts back into our diet in place of saturated fats could help to improve cholesterol levels for many people. Lowering cholesterol is important as it reduces your risk of developing heart disease. However, too much salt isn't good either so go for unsalted nuts in small amounts.”
First published May 11, 2010