Go Nuts For Heart Health

One of the best ways to boost your heart health is to go a little "nutty" from time to time. According to the American Heart Association, nuts have an important role to play in a heart-healthy diet and you need at least four servings of nuts, legumes or seeds every week.

Nuts are potent sources of omega 3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body and support the cardiovascular system. They contain more unsaturated fats than animal protein and can lower LDL (commonly referred to as "bad" cholesterol). Nuts are also loaded with vitamin E which can slow down the development of dangerous plaque in the arteries.

Bear in mind that while nuts are loaded with nutrients, they are also high in calories so most nutritionists recommend one-ounce servings. Nuts should not be "added" to the diet, but rather substituted for other, less-healthy foods and snacks. Plain nuts are delicious as a snack so consider swapping them for high-calorie treats like chips or cookies. Nuts can also be used as a healthy topping for salads, yogurt, cereal or casseroles.

Like many of Mother Nature's healthy foods, we have a tendency to "dress" nuts in substances that negate their nutritional benefits. Nuts that have been heavily salted, coated in sugar or dipped in chocolate are so high in calories that their heart-healthy benefits are compromised. It is best to eat plain nuts that are raw or dry roasted. Avoid nuts that are packaged or roasted in oil.

Although all nuts have nutritional value, some varieties are healthier than others. Walnuts, almonds and peanuts are among the best nuts for heart health:

  • Walnuts: Because they contain the highest concentration of omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts are considered the "superstar" of the nut family. Studies show that walnuts can improve blood flow and lower heart disease risks. Walnuts contain two times more antioxidants than other commonly eaten nuts.
  • Almonds: In addition to omega 3 fatty acids, almonds also contain generous amounts of vitamin E. They are rich sources of health-boosting minerals like manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
  • Peanuts: Peanuts feature omega-3 fatty acids as well as several other nutrients that benefit heart health. They are rich in vitamin E, niacin, protein and manganese. They also contain resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant found in red grapes.

It's important to select nuts that are low in saturated fats. Nuts like cashews, macadamia and Brazil nuts have nutritional value but they have a higher fat content.

Nut oils are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, although they lack the fiber found in whole nuts. Consider using nut oils for cooking and in homemade salad dressing. It is important to remember that nut oils react differently to heat than vegetable oils. Nut oils can develop a bitter taste if they are overheated.

Fortunately, nuts offer us affordable and delicious options for boosting heart health. Find creative ways to add nuts to your stay-well nutrition plan. The benefits are so well documented that you would have to be nuts to ignore this advice!

In addition to eating nuts to support heart health, you can take supplements to lower blood pressure. 

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