Go Nuts for a Healthy Heart

nuts, healthy heartMake a heart-friendly choice by choosing to eat more nuts. There is clear scientific evidence that eating a diet rich in nuts and legumes — which includes beans, peanuts, lentils, almonds, walnuts and cashews — has wide ranging health benefits.

A large study conducted in 2015 found that eating nuts reduces the chance of dying from heart disease for several ethnic groups. Researchers studied 71,000 white and African Americans living in the Southeast U.S. who had generally low incomes as well as over 130,000 Chinese men and women from Shanghai, China. The researchers concluded that people who ate nuts regularly for at least 4 years were less likely to die of heart disease or other diseases during the 5 to 12 years of the study.[1] Since many of the low-income study participants chose to eat peanuts in the 2015 study, this research shows that peanuts (which are actually legumes and not nuts) are also a healthy choice.

Making nuts and legumes a regular part of your diet is key, not just occasionally. Researchers have found that eating nuts four times per week reduces the chance of getting heart disease by 37%.[2] However, because nuts are high in calories, no more than a handful a day should be eaten.

Heart disease is most common among people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, unhealthy diet, diabetes, smoking habits and those who are overweight, older ages and with a family history of heart disease. Whether or not you already have those health problems, eating a diet rich in nuts along with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil and even some wine can help you lower your chances of heart disease. This diet of healthy fats, reduced sodium, and fresh foods is often called a “Mediterranean diet” because it is typical of the popular foods in that region.

One example of a convincing study of a Mediterranean diet was conducted for 2 years on 2,650 adults who were overweight and at risk of heart disease.  Those who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains were more likely to lose weight and reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol levels than the adults who ate a low-fat diet.[3]

Why is the Mediterranean diet better than a low-fat diet?  A Mediterranean diet with nuts, fish and healthy oils contains good unsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which have a great benefit for the heart because they can moderate blood pressure, decrease risk of blood clotting, and reduce inflammation. In three long-term studies conducted on 32,000 adults, those who received a supplement in omega-3 fatty acids had a 19-45% lower chance of developing heart disease.[4] The researchers suggest people with heart disease or at risk for developing it should eat more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, fish and oils like canola or flaxseed oil.

A Mediterranean diet also reduces the chances of heart failure. In a study of 3,300 women, those who ate large amounts of nuts and legumes along with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish were less likely to have heart failure or stroke over a ten-year period. [5]

Since most of the research on nuts includes nuts as part of a Mediterranean diet, we don’t know much about the exact role of nuts in preventing heart disease.  But why wait until better studies are completed, when it is already clear that nuts are beneficial?

Nuts are often sold salted, candied or honey-roasted.  Keep in mind that those types of nuts are less healthy choices, compared to raw nuts and legumes.  And remember to check the calories – nuts are a great snack only in moderation.  It’s easy to add hundreds of calories each day you eat nuts if you aren’t careful.

All NCHR articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff. 

  1. Luu HN, Blot WJ, Xiang YB, Cai H, Hargreaves MK, Li H, Yang G, Signorello L, Gao YT, Zheng W, Shu XO. (May 2015). “Prospective evaluation of the association of nut/peanut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality.” JAMA Intern Med. 2015; 175(5):755-66. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8347.
  2. Kelly JH Jr, Sabaté J. (Nov 2006). “Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective.” Br J Nutr. 2006 Nov;96 Suppl 2:S61-7.
  3.  Nordmann AJ, Suter-Zimmermann K, Bucher HC, Shai I, Tuttle KR, Estruch R, Briel M. (September 2011). “Meta-analysis comparing Mediterranean to low-fat diets for modification of cardiovascular risk factors.” Am J Med. 2011; 124(9):841-51.doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.04.024.
  4. Lee JH, O’Keefe JH, Lavie CJ, Marchioli R, Harris WS. (Mar 2008). “Omega-3 fatty acids for cardioprotection.” Mayo Clin Proc. 2008 Mar;83(3):324-32. doi: 10.4065/83.3.324.
  5. Tektonidis TG, Åkesson A, Gigante B, Wolk A, Larsson SC. (Nov 2015) “A Mediterranean diet and risk of myocardial infarction, heart failure and stroke: A population-based cohort study.” Atherosclerosis. 2015 Nov;243(1):93-8. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2015.08.039.