Evidence Mounting For Value Of Nuts Says LSU AgCenter Nutritionist

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  4/19/2005 10:28:32 PM

News You Can Use For October 2004

Nuts are gaining recognition for their beneficial health effects, including their potential to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.

The Food and Drug Administration gave approval last year for almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts to carry an FDA-approved label stating that eating nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Frequent nut consumption has been shown to reduce coronary artery disease (CAD) risk by as much as 50 percent with 4-5 servings per week. Research studies show that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels may be decreased by 5 percent-15 percent. A recent study reported in the journal "Circulation" found that walnuts improve endothelial function, which allows the arteries to dilate to meet an increased demand for blood, such as when exercising.

The American Heart Association suggests the consumption of unsalted, dry roasted nuts as meat substitutes, as one component of a heart-healthy diet. Nuts are good sources of fiber and protein. Although relatively high in fat and calories, the fats in nuts are mostly mono- and polyunsaturated, which Reames believes help to decrease LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

"Walnuts contain not only monounsaturated fat, but they also are a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid," the nutritionist adds, noting that omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce heart disease risk by relaxing the arteries and improving blood circulation to the heart. They inhibit blood clotting and improve heartbeat.

"Omega-3s lower blood fats and blood pressure, which makes heart attacks less likely," Reames says, adding, "They also keep arteries open by discouraging the buildup of plaque in blood vessels." A handful of walnuts contains almost as much omega-3 fatty acid as 3 ounces of salmon.

Nuts also contain vitamin E and fiber that might have a protective mechanism in the prevention of heart disease. The mineral content of nuts, especially magnesium and copper, has also been suggested as a possible protection against heart disease.

Interest in the role of nut consumption and coronary heart disease (CHD) started with the ongoing Adventist Health Study. Results suggest that frequent consumption of nuts (more than four times per week) had a protective effect against CHD events.

The Nurses’ Health Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, also found that recurring consumption of nuts (more than 5 ounces of nuts per week) was associated with reduced risks of fatal CHD and nonfatal myocardial infarction.

A physician's health study reported in "Archives of Internal Medicine" found that men who reported eating nuts twice a week or more were 47 percent less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than were men who reported rarely or never eating nuts.

"Nut consumption can be part of the balance and variety of a healthful diet," Reames says. One ounce of nuts, which varies from seven walnuts to 22 almonds, has about 170 calories.

The nutritionist says eating 1 ounce of nuts (about a handful) five times per week is enough to provide health benefits. This amount of nuts will also ensure that your nut consumption doesn't lead to weight gain; however, nuts do not usually promote weight gain, since they are filling and actually help curb the appetite.

For information on related nutrition, family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/.  For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/
On the Internet: Adventist Health Study: http://www.llu.edu/llu/health/
On the Internet: Nurses’ Health Study: http://www.channing.harvard.edu/nhs/
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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