The Heart Loves Nuts

Healthnotes Newswire (August 6, 2009)—Even though they are high in calories, nuts and seeds have been shown to be an important part of a heart-healthy diet. While researchers investigate whether their beneficial effects extend to people with chronic disease, a new study has found that women with type 2 diabetes, a condition that increases risk of heart disease, can lower their cholesterol levels and reduce their cardiac risk by eating nuts.

Diabetes diet tip

The new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, included 6,309 women with type 2 diabetes who were participants in a larger ongoing study called the Nurses’ Health Study. They were followed from the time of their diabetes diagnosis using questionnaires to identify relationships between dietary and lifestyle habits and heart disease. Women who reported having had a heart attack, stroke, or coronary bypass surgery were considered to have heart disease. Cholesterol levels were measured at the end of the study.

• The women who ate the most nuts and peanut butter had the lowest risk of heart disease.

• Women ate five or more servings per week of 1-ounce servings of nuts and 1-tablespoon servings of peanut butter, had 44% lower heart disease risk than women who ate less than one serving per month.

• When nuts and peanut butter were considered separately, both were protective, but nuts were more protective than peanut butter.

• Women who ate the most nuts and peanut butter had the lowest total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

Nutty goodness for your heart

The cardioprotective effect of nuts and peanut butter has been observed in studies that included postmenopausal women, male physicians, African Americans, people over 84 years old, and vegetarians, as well as healthy female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study. Peanuts, though technically legumes and not nuts, are often thought of as nuts because of their similar taste and nutritional value. Nuts, including peanuts, are low in saturated fat and high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels. Nuts are also rich in fiber, magnesium, vitamin E, folic acid, and arginine, all of which can contribute to improved cardiovascular health.

“We found that frequent nut consumption, especially at least five servings per week, was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack in women with type 2 diabetes,” said study coauthor Dr. Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health. “These results support recommending regular consumption of nuts to people with diabetes to reduce their risk of heart disease.”

Eat right and stay active for a healthy heart

People with diabetes can lower their risk of heart disease in the same ways as people without:

• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

• Get plenty of dietary fiber by eating more whole grains and legumes.

• Avoid processed foods that are too high in sugar and salt.

• Limit your intake of foods high in saturated fat like cheeses, fatty meats, and fried foods, and avoid foods with trans fats.

• Add a serving or two of fish per week, and consider a daily supplement of fish oil or cod liver oil.

• Think about switching to a vegetarian or mostly-vegetarian diet.

• Start a regular exercise program.

• The American Diabetes Association suggests that you talk to your health care provider about taking a small daily dose of aspirin to lower your risk of heart attack.

And, of course, include a handful of nuts most days. Keep nuts stored in airtight containers to avoid unhealthy oil oxidization—and for optimal health benefits lean towards less processed options that aren’t full of salts and other preservatives.

(J Nutr 2009;139:1333–8)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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