Eat Nuts for a Healthy Heart
Eating nuts may be good for your heart, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2002;162:1382–7). Participants in the study who consumed nuts regularly had a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease, compared with those who did not eat nuts.
In 1982, more than 21,000 male physicians filled out a questionnaire that included information about dietary habits. Researchers then followed these doctors for a period of 17 years. Compared with men who rarely or never consumed nuts, those who consumed nuts two or more times per week had a 30% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 47% lower risk of dying suddenly. The effect of consuming nuts remained statistically significant, even after controlling for known cardiac risk factors (such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol) and other dietary habits.
Although nuts are relatively high in fat, the types of fatty acids they contain do not appear to be ones that are dangerous to the heart. On the contrary, one of these fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) may help prevent the heart rhythm disturbances that cause sudden cardiac death. In addition, nuts are rich sources of magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and the amino acid arginine, all of which help protect the heart and blood vessels.
This new report adds to the growing body of research demonstrating the health-promoting benefits of nuts. Studies have shown that almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachio nuts can each reduce serum cholesterol levels. In addition, researchers have found that including nuts as part of an overall healthful diet can help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Of course, nuts are high in calories, so eating excessive amounts might lead to weight gain. For that reason, some doctors recommend that nut consumption be limited to one ounce per day. In addition, the unsaturated fatty acids in nuts are unstable and tend to undergo spontaneous oxidation when exposed to oxygen in the air. The oxidation byproducts of these fatty acids (lipid peroxides) may actually promote heart disease or accelerate the aging process. Therefore, it is a good idea to store nuts in an airtight container. However, even airtight packages usually contain at least small amounts of air. To reduce the tendency of that air to promote oxidation, some nutritionists recommend that nuts be kept in the refrigerator or freezer, as colder temperatures reduce the rate of spontaneous oxidation.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the Medical Editor for Clinical Essentials Alert, is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). Currently he is the Endowed Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, Kenmore, WA.
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