A small bag of nuts a day could dramatically lower cholesterol levels, according to a study by the Archives of Internal Medicine. Various types of nuts seem to produce the same effect, although experts warn against salted or sugar coated nuts, which can have negative consequences for health.
What does the study show?
A series of 25 studies including almost 600 people were reviewed by Loma Linda University, California. The researchers found that each of the subjects in these studies consumed an average of 67g of unsalted nuts per day, or about 2 1/3 ounces, over a period of three to eight weeks.
The results of the study showed a reduction in cholesterol levels by an average of 7.4%, although it was noted that the impact was less obvious in overweight subjects.
People involved in the studies had also been tested for levels of triglyceride, a type of blood fat linked with heart disease. It was noted that levels of triglycerides were also reduced by the regular nut consumption.
How do nuts lower cholesterol?
The exact method by which nuts lower cholesterol is unclear, but one strong theory has been put forward. Nuts contain certain ingredients known as plant sterols, and it is thought that these substances interfere with cholesterol absorption, blocking bad cholesterol from entering the blood.
The FDA advises eating a handful of nuts every day, including almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts. Although nuts are high in calories, weight gain shouldn’t be an issue, since findings from the Nurses Health Study showed that people who regularly eat nuts are thinner than people who don’t. Nuts are high in nutrients and make a satisfying substitute for low nutrition foods such as processed carbohydrates like bread, pretzels, doughnuts, cookies and cakes.
But don’t we need cholesterol?
Good cholesterol is a vital substance in the body that is needed for cell function and to form cell membranes. It is also used in the production of hormones and bile acids, and is an antioxidant that helps us retain our youthful looks and vigor. Reducing levels of good cholesterol can increase our risk of colon cancer.
Plant sterols found in nuts aren’t thought to affect good cholesterol, which is known as HDL or high-density lipoprotein. They only block the absorption of bad cholesterol known as LDL or low-density lipoprotein. When there is too much LDL in the blood it builds up on artery walls, narrowing them and leading to atherosclerosis, which in turn increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Other foods that help to lower bad cholesterol
As well as nuts, there are various other foods that can be included in a healthy diet to reduce cholesterol. Here are four of the more common ones:
- Oat bran and other soluble fibers contain beta-glucan which is known to reduce cholesterol levels and provide roughage for healthy digestion. Beta glucan can also be found in beans such as kidney beans, apples, pears, prunes, and in dietary supplements such as Fiber System (8oz.).
- Oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids is a super food that can help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as reduce the risk of blood clots. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, tuna, salmon, and halibut. If you don’t like the taste of fish try Omega 3 Plus (60).
- Olive oil is heart healthy and high in monounsaturated fat. It can lower bad cholesterol levels without harming good cholesterol levels. The FDA recommends consuming around two tablespoons per day, which can be used for basting, as a salad dressing, or as a dip for bread. Buy only extra virgin olive oil.
- Fortified juice is another way to reduce cholesterol. Plant sterols, the same cholesterol blocking ingredients found in nuts, have been added to certain foods such as orange juice and yogurt. Drinking two 8 ounce servings of plant sterol fortified orange juice every day could reduce your cholesterol by up to 10%.