Tree nuts- especially almonds and walnuts-can lower your cholesterol; in particular, your LDL cholesterol, which is the bad kind. Nuts contain several beneficial compounds that work in different ways to lower cholesterol and also provide other benefits. One study of people who added a handful of walnuts a day to their diet had their HDL cholesterol (the good kind) raise and their LDL cholesterol dropped 10%. Trigylcerides also dropped by 10%.
The vast majority of fats in almonds and walnuts are heart healthy ones- polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Not all nuts can boast this, though- cashews, macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts have saturated fats. Almonds have the most protein and fiber of all the nuts, and they have the highest amount of vitamin E.
The monounsaturated fat that almonds and walnuts are high in binds itself to the LDL cholesterol in the blood stream, which makes it bind to receptors in the liver easier. Almonds also contain phytosterols, which lower cholesterol when large amounts are eaten. Almonds and walnuts are also high in fiber, which reduces cholesterol levels. The high amount of vitamin E in almonds prevents oxidation of cholesterol, which prevents plague formation in the arteries, and when added to the high amount of flavonoids found in almond skins, combines with LDL cholesterol particles to prevent breakdown and thus inflammation of the artery walls. Finally, almonds contain a high amount of the amino acid arginine, which the body uses to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure, and lessens the bloods ability to clot and block arteries.
Raw nuts are best, and make sure the nuts you eat aren’t salted or coated with sugar. To avoid eating too many nuts and gaining weight- nuts are extremely high in calories- replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds. A few chopped nuts on vegetables add texture and flavor. Most baked goods make good vehicles for nuts. Aim for about 1 to 1-1/2 ounces a day of almonds and walnuts.
Cholesterol Down, by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN