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Can Eating Walnuts Help Lower Your Cholesterol?

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Updated December 20, 2012

Can Eating Walnuts Help Lower Your Cholesterol?

Walnuts are a heart-healthy nut.

vladm, istockphoto

The walnut is not only good for cooking - they are healthy nuts that can also help your heart. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recognizing the cholesterol-lowering properties of walnuts, accepted a petition filed by the California Walnut Commission in March 2004 to list the health claim that walnuts can aid in reducing cholesterol levels. Through many studies performed by various research institutions all over the world, the benefits of walnuts have now been discovered. Not only has the consumption of walnuts proven beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels, they have been also noted to reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation.

What Makes Walnuts Healthy?

Walnuts demonstrate heart-healthy benefits due to the presence of high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and phytosterols. Omega-3-fatty acids reduce triglycerides levels and only slightly reduce LDL levels (low density lipoproteins, also know as the bad cholesterol). Phytosterols appear to slightly lower LDL cholesterol levels, however, the mechanism by which it does this is not entirely known. In fact, walnuts contain the highest amount of omega-3-fatty acids in 1 ounce of nuts (i.e. one handful) in comparison to other nuts (2.5 g of omega-3-fatty acids versus less than 0.5 g found in other nuts).

In addition to heart healthy ingredients, walnuts also contain a wealth of other nutrients, including vitamin E, the B vitamins, fiber, and several minerals. Many of the studies performed suggest that you only need to consume only a handful of walnuts a day to receive the cholesterol-lowering benefits of walnuts. The FDA agrees with this health claim, which will be on every bag of walnuts you purchase and will state the following: "supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 oz of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. See nutrition information for fat [and calorie] content."

Where’s the Proof?

Many studies have indicated the usefulness of walnuts in reducing cholesterol levels. The first study involving the benefits of walnuts was performed at Loma Linda University in 1993. This study revealed a controlled diet containing walnuts reduced LDL cholesterol significantly in comparison to the Step One diet produced by the American Heart Association. The controlled diet was a modified version of the Step One diet, with the exception that walnuts replaced the fatty acid portion in the diet. A Harvard study outlining the benefits of nuts concluded that high dietary nut consumption decreased the risk of sudden cardiac death in 2002. In addition to this, many studies have elucidated the benefits of consuming walnuts and other omega-3 fatty acid-containing foods, citing that consuming high amounts of these products reduced the risk of stroke and clogging of arteries.

The bottom line is that walnuts are a healthy snack packed with important nutrients that can help keep cholesterol levels -- and your heart -- healthy. Most studies have shown that it takes only one handful daily to achieve this effect.

Sources:

Sabate J, Fraser GE, Burke K, et al. Effect of walnuts on serum lipid levels and blood pressure in normal men. New Eng J Med 1993;328:603-607.

Simon JA, Fong J, Bernert JT, et al. Serum fatty acids and the risk of stroke. Stroke 1995;26:778-82.

de Lorgeril M, Renaud S, Mamelle N, et al. Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Lancet 1994; 11:1454-9.

Lavedrine F, Zmirou D, Ravel A, et al. Blood cholesterol and walnut consumption: a cross-sectional survey in France. Prev Med 1999;28:333-9.

Almario RU, Vonghavaravat V, Wong R, et al. Effects of walnut consumption on plasma fatty acids and lipoproteins in combined hyperlipidemia. Am J Clin Nutr 2001;74:72–9.

Zambón D, Sabaté J, Muñoz S, et al. Substituting Walnuts for Monounsaturated Fat Improves the Serum Lipid Profile of Hypercholesterolemic Men and Women: A Randomized Crossover Trial. Ann Intern Med 2000;132:538-546.

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