The Heart's Good Friends: Nuts
Including nuts in your diet four to five times a week can be good for your heart health. The nut that, hands down, tops the list for health is the plain almond. Others with health benefits are cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Peanuts are good, too, although they are legumes, not true nuts.
However, the kind of nuts eaten are not nearly as important as substituting them for red meats, eggs and high-fat dairy products. Doing so can lower bad cholesterol levels and help tame high blood pressure since the fat found in nuts is mostly heart-healthy good (unsaturated) fat. Large studies have linked eating nuts to decreasing the risk of heart disease by 30 to 50 percent.
Just eating nuts and not cutting back on bad fats fails to help the heart, studies show. That's because the process that leads to heart disease involves many factors — not just the kind of fat eaten.
Nuts are jam-packed with nutrients such as vitamin E, folic acid, niacin, copper, magnesium and potassium. They're also rich in arginine, which the human body uses to help blood vessels relax. Antioxidants are abundant in nuts and may help ward off both cancer and heart disease.
Because nuts are high in protein and fiber, they take some of the hunger pangs out of dieting. Good cooks use them in salad dressings, cereal, yogurt, pasta, veggies and pastries. Some grind them up to use in coating chicken.
The one thing to remember about nuts: don't overdo it. Set a limit of one handful per serving.
Have questions about healthy foods? Members can log in to Blue Access for MembersSM, click on "Personal Health Manager" and then "Ask a Dietitian."
Sources: Harvard School of Public Health, Yale-New Haven Hospital Nutrition Advisor