Think nuts are a high-fat, high-calorie food you should avoid? Well, technically, they are. But you shouldn’t avoid them – it’s exactly those qualities that make nuts so filling and highly nutritious. Whether you’re spreading a creamy layer of nut butter onto slices of fruit or sprinkling nuts over a salad, a serving of nuts in any form can make you feel fuller for longer.
And research shows that nuts are better for you than you might think, especially when it comes to your heart. There’s a proven link between nuts and heart disease. In fact, once you learn just how much good a serving of nuts can do for your risk of heart disease, you’re going to want to grab a handful.
Nuts can benefit every aspect of heart health
Research shows that eating nuts regularly is directly tied to a lower risk of heart-related conditions, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
A 2019 study found that eating nuts as part of an overall healthy diet can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 17 percent. Researchers saw participants’ risk decrease year over year when nuts were involved. After years of monitoring, participants who ate a variety of nuts and incorporated them into their eating habits at least twice a week saw the biggest reduction in risk.
And even more recent research shows there could be bigger benefits. A 2021 study examined 39,000 women twice: once at the start of the study and once 10 years later. The women who ate at least one serving – approximately 1/4 cup – of nuts at least twice per week saw a 27 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t eat nuts.
Why do nuts have such a positive impact on heart disease? It’s likely because they’re able to have a similarly positive effect on some of the key factors that cause poor heart health. Nuts can benefit your cholesterol levels, your arteries’ health, and your odds of developing blood clots. They even have the potential to reduce inflammation, which can also play a role in your heart’s health.
Nuts are small but loaded with nutrients
How can nuts have such far-reaching effects within your body? Though they’re relatively small in size, nuts contain some of the most critical nutrients for your heart.
Nuts are high in fat – unsaturated fat, that is. Just about every nut variety available offers monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats play a big role in reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. Both mono- and polyunsaturated fats help lower LDL cholesterol (or “bad”) levels and increase HDL cholesterol (or “good”). And cholesterol levels are directly linked to your overall heart health.
Most nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been found to prevent irregular heart rhythms, which can lead to heart attacks. This particular fatty acid can also reduce your risk of blood clots, preventing platelets from forming clots and keeping arteries plaque- or blockage-free.
And the heart health benefits of these nutrients are only compounded by the other kinds of nutrients found in nuts. All nuts contain fiber and many also offer plant sterols, for example – two additional cholesterol-lowering components. Many nuts also contain vitamin E and l-arginine, two nutrients that improve artery health. So, you’re getting a whole bunch of heart-targeting vitamins, minerals and more every time you choose nuts.
Which nuts are the best?
If you’re looking to stock your pantry with the best nuts for your heart, there’s great news: the type of nuts you eat really doesn’t matter.
In general, nuts are a heart-healthy choice. There are some varieties that are better than others, but the differences between nut types are small. Walnuts, for example, contain more omega-3 fatty acids than many other nuts. Almonds, meanwhile, are high in monounsaturated fat.
As long as you’re eating raw or lightly roasted nuts, you’ll get all of the benefits you’re looking for.
Why are raw or lightly roasted varieties best? Roasting can strip away some of nuts’ key nutrients, degrade antioxidants, and lower vitamin E levels. And don’t forget about salt – packaged nuts can pack a ton of sodium, which is an ingredient you’ll want to avoid if you’re eating for your heart.
How many servings of nuts is the right amount?
You don’t have to make every snack you eat nuts in order to get all of their cardiovascular benefits. Eating just a few more nuts, or a couple of handfuls each week, will do the trick.
According to research, a 1/4 cup serving of nuts twice a week can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. Other research has found that eating nuts more frequently, such as a one-ounce serving daily, can lower your risk for weight gain and obesity – two factors that are directly tied to your heart’s health.
So, you can try working nuts into your diet as often as you’d like. You can choose nuts as your go-to snack on busy days, opt for nut butters in place of other spreads and add nuts into breakfast, lunch or dinner recipes. However you’re eating nuts, they’ll round out your already healthy habits.
Are nut oils and butters just as healthy?
If you aren’t really a fan of nuts, you can still get all of the cardiovascular benefits without crunching on nuts in their purest form. Nut oils and nut butters also offer many of the same nutrients.
Nut oils have nearly all of the same heart-hearty unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals as their nut counterparts. There’s just one exception: nut oils don’t have the same amount of fiber.
Walnut oil is one of the best choices, as it’s high in vitamins E and K, choline, zinc, phosphorus and selenium as well as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. When you’re using nut oils, just keep in mind that the temperature you’re cooking at can affect the nutrients. These oils tend to start losing nutrients once they reach their smoking points, or when they become bitter in taste.
Nut butters are also a great alternative to nuts. According to the American Heart Association, they typically contain all the same benefits as the nuts they’re made from, including protein, fiber, antioxidants and unsaturated fats. These butters alone actually have the potential to decrease your risk for heart disease. And nut butters are available in so many different varieties now, from almond butters to cashew butters to macadamia nut butters.
But there is one important thing to remember about nut butters. Part of the reason these spreads are so tasty is they include added – or even excessive – sugars, salt and saturated fats. Before you start spreading nut butter on everything as a heart-healthy treat, make sure to check the nutritional label and ingredients list. The best nut butters are those that have limited additions, with low sugar, salt and saturated fats.
Whether you’re choosing nuts, nut oils or nut butters for better heart health, it’s easy to give them a try. Check out these recipes, all of which incorporate nuts in different ways: