Most nuts contain several healthy ingredients that, among other things, can be good for your heart. Hand on heart, how often do you eat nuts? And don’t count the salty or chocolate coated nuts. Apart from those, the type of nut you eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and beneficial fats than do others. Eating nuts can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels in blood. They may reduce the risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of the arteries. All good news.
Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain both beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. All nuts contain fibre. Nuts are also a good source of vitamin E and other antioxidants like flavonoids, belonging to the polyphenol family, and also of the amino acid l-arginine. On the negative side, nuts are quite energy rich so it’s best not to go overboard with nut consumption. But most people eat too few and should increase their nut intake. A handful of nuts is sufficient to enjoy the benefits.
Fighting it out – which is the best nut?
The winner seems to be walnuts with almonds close on its heels. But any other nut might be good too. Let’s look at some details.
A scientific study from 2012 positioned walnuts in the number one slot among a family of foods that lay claim to being among Mother Nature’s most neatly packaged foods. The study measured free and total polyphenols in nine types of raw and roasted nuts. The samples included walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, and pecans. Walnuts had the highest free and total polyphenol levels in both the raw and roasted samples. Walnuts had a combination of more healthful antioxidants and higher quality antioxidants than any other nut. A handful of walnuts contained almost twice as much antioxidants as an equivalent amount of any other commonly consumed nut. The study suggested that consumers should eat more walnuts as part of a healthy diet.
Another scientific study published in 2014 more directly explored the health benefits of a nut diet by using almonds only. The scientists found that eating almonds reduced the risk of heart disease by keeping blood vessels healthy. They tested the effects of a short-term almond-enriched diet on healthy young and middle-aged men as well as on a group of young men with cardiovascular risk factors including having high blood pressure or being overweight. A control group ate what they normally would, while another group consumed snacks of 50g of almonds a day for one month.
At the end of the study period, the group eating an almond-enriched diet had higher levels of antioxidants (alpha-tocopherol) in their blood stream, improved blood flow and lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk of heart disease. The research team speculated that is was the combination of beneficial substances such as vitamin E and healthy fats, fibre which increases the sense of fullness, and flavonoids which may have antioxidant properties, all working together to create the overall health benefits rather than just one particular nutrient in isolation. These findings add weight to the theory that Mediterranean diets with lots of nuts have big health benefits. The scientists suggested that almonds could replace a daytime snack or be added to regular meals like porridge or muesli to help reduce the risk of heart problems.
A bit of a dead heat
So as predicted from the start it might not matter which nut you pick. Although not equally good, they might all be good enough to protect your health.
However, there’s another advantage in choosing walnuts as a source of antioxidants. People usually eat walnuts raw, and get the full effectiveness of those antioxidants, while other nuts might be eaten roasted and the heat from roasting nuts generally reduces the quality of the antioxidants.
Remember, it takes only about 7 walnuts a day to get the potential health benefits uncovered in a range of studies. So start adding nuts to your daily diet.