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Going Nuts to Reduce Cholesterol


If you want to improve your blood cholesterol levels, consider going nuts. That’s the word from researchers from Loma Linda University after they reviewed 25 nut consumption trials that included people with high or normal cholesterol.

Nuts are a nutrient dense food that is rich in plant protein and fat (primarily unsaturated), as well as fiber, copper, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and other components, including plant sterols. These latter substances may contribute to cholesterol lowering by interfering with the intestine’s ability to absorb cholesterol.

Previous studies have indicated that nuts have the ability to reduce blood cholesterol levels and thus reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. This new review, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, evaluated the results of 9 studies in which the participants had high total cholesterol (mean range, 236-259 mg/dL) and 16 in which subjects had normal total cholesterol levels (mean range, 125-222 mg/dL).

Data from 583 men and women were analyzed, and their daily consumption of nuts ranged from 23 to 132 grams (mean, 67 grams), which is about 0.8 to 4.8 ounces per day. Almonds and walnuts were the nuts most often consumed in the studies.

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When compared with individuals who did not eat nuts, subjects who did eat various types of nuts showed an average 5.1 percent reduction in total cholesterol, a 7.4 percent reduction in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, and an 8.3 percent reduction in the ratio of LDL to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration (HDL), all positive indications. Subjects who had high triglyceride levels also showed a 10.2 percent decline, but eating nuts did not affect those who had lower levels.

The researchers also noted in their review that the benefits of eating nuts regularly to help prevent coronary heart disease is probably not due solely to their ability to reduce cholesterol. They pointed out that nut consumption also improves endothelial function, reduces oxidative stress and lipoprotein (a) levels, and is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, worries that frequently eating nuts will result in weight gain has not been shown in research.

In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration issued a qualified health claim in which it stated that people who ate 1.5 ounces of certain nuts (e.g., almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts) may reduce their risk of coronary heart disease. This statement was made based on the results of four major studies, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, in which the mean coronary heart disease risk was 37 percent lower among people who ate four or more servings of nuts per week.

This new review study supports the regular consumption of nuts as a way to reduce cholesterol levels and also lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Another study also just released concerning pistachios also shows that eating nuts is associated with LDL-lowering benefits. Going nuts each day may be one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Kay CD et al. Journal of Nutrition 2010 March 31
Kelly JH, Sabate J. British Journal of Nutrition 2006; 96(suppl 2): S61-67
Sabate J et al. Archives of Internal Medicine 2010; 170(9): 821-27