Nuts for a Healthy Heart

A review by Australian nutrition experts, published in the international journal Current Opinion in Lipidology provides further support for the heart health benefits derived from regularly eating nuts * .

Many international studies back the Australian nut industry’s position that a handful of nuts, five times a week, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease ** .

Now, a summary of scientific evidence presented by researchers at the University of South Australia’s Nutritional Physiology Research Centre, published this month, gives the story about nuts and healthy hearts a strong local endorsement.

mixed nut

In their conclusions, researchers Dr Alison Coates and Professor Peter Howe describe nuts as “ready-to-eat snack foods that are satisfying, have healthy lipid profiles, and are excellent sources of protein”.

“There’s an extensive body of literature describing the beneficial effects of regular consumption of nuts on blood lipid profiles, and there are also different ways that bioactive nutrients in nuts can act – possibly synergistically – to improve blood circulation by enhancing the ability of blood vessels to dilate,” said Professor Howe.

Nuts for Life *** program manager and dietitian, Lisa Yates, says while there are no real surprises in the report, the findings provide greater impetus and further expand the body of evidence Australia’s nut industry will use in its submission to Food Standards Australia New Zealand in relation to health and nutrient claims.

“The United States’ Food and Drug Administration has given qualified approval to a claim for nuts to effectively advocate that about 40 grams of nuts a day may help lower the risk of coronary heart disease through reducing LDL – or bad – cholesterol,” said Ms Yates.

Beyond the direct heart health benefits, the South Australian review “Edible nuts and metabolic health”, also points out nuts can offer a wider array of benefits, including:

  • weight loss in an energy restricted diet
  • satiating effect to balance appetite and energy through high fibre, protein and energy content, and
  • improved insulin sensitivity, with a positive impact on Type 2 diabetes risk.

“Many “would be” nut eaters are concerned that the high fat content of nuts will contribute to weight gain,” said Dr Coates,although evidence suggests this is not the case.

“There’s so much packed into every nut, that we call them nature’s vitamin pills. The really interesting question from a nutrition research perspective is to explore the synergistic effect of the nutrients in nuts, what you might call in layperson’s terms, the Chicken Soup Effect of nuts,” says Ms Yates.

* Coates AM, Howe PRC, Edible nuts and metabolic health. Current Opinion in Lipidology 2007;18:25-30.

** Fraser GE, Sabate J, Beeson WL, Strahan TM. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. The Adventist Health Study. Arch Intern Med 1992; 152(7):1416-24. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Rimm EB, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. BMJ 1998;317(7169):1341-5. Albert CM, Gaziano JM, Willett WC, Manson JE. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physicians’ Health Study. Arch Intern Med 2002;162(12):1382-7. Kushi LH, Folsom AR, Prineas RJ, Mink PJ, Wu Y, Bostick RM. Dietary antioxidant vitamins and death from coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women. N Engl J Med 1996;334(18):1156-62.

*** Nuts for Life is an initiative of the Australian tree nut industry, with matching funding from the Australian Government through Horticulture Australia Limited.

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