Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health

Discover how walnuts, almonds and other nuts can help lower cholesterol when eaten as part of a balanced diet.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet may be good for the heart. Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients. And they’re a great snack food — inexpensive, easy to store and easy to pack when you’re on the go.

One drawback to nuts is that some may be high in calories, so it’s important to limit portions. But choosing nuts instead of a less healthy snack may just help you stick to a heart-healthy diet.

How might nuts help your heart?

Research has found that frequently eating nuts lowers levels of inflammation related to heart disease and diabetes.

Regularly eating a healthy diet that includes nuts may:

  • Improve artery health
  • Reduce inflammation related to heart disease
  • Decrease the risk of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes
  • Lower the risk of high blood pressure
  • Lower the risk of early death due to heart disease
  • Lower unhealthy cholesterol levels, specifically low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, which can clog arteries

What might make nuts heart healthy?

Nuts are a good source of protein. Most nuts also contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:

  • Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are healthy fatty acids. They may reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Fiber. All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. Fiber also makes you feel full, so you eat less.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products such as margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
  • L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of L-arginine. Some research suggests that L-arginine may lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and improve overall blood vessel health.

What’s a healthy serving of nuts?

Nuts contain fat. Even though most of it is healthy fat, the calories can still add up. That’s why you should eat nuts in moderation.

Adults should aim to eat about 4 to 6 servings of unsalted nuts a week as part of a healthy diet. Serving recommendations for kids vary, depending on age. Ask your pediatrician how many servings of nuts are OK for your child.

Choose raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than nuts cooked in oil. One serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter.

Does it matter what kind of nuts you eat?

Most nuts appear to be generally healthy. But some may have more heart-healthy nutrients than others. For example, walnuts contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans also appear to be quite heart healthy. So are peanuts — though they are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans.

It’s best to choose unsalted or unsweetened nuts. Adding salt or sugar to nuts may cancel out their heart-healthy benefits.

Here’s some nutrition information on common types of nuts. All calorie and fat content measurements are for 1 ounce, or 28.4 grams (g), of unsalted nuts.

Type of nut Calories Total fat
Almonds, dry-roasted 170 14.9 g
Almonds, raw 164 14.2 g
Brazil nuts, raw 187 19 g
Cashews, dry-roasted 163 13.1 g
Chestnuts, roasted 70 0.6 g
Hazelnuts (filberts), dry-roasted 183 17.7 g
Hazelnuts (filberts), raw 178 17.2 g
Macadamia nuts, dry-roasted 204 21.6 g
Macadamia nuts, raw 204 21.5 g
Peanuts, dry-roasted 166 14.1 g
Pecans, dry-roasted 201 21.1 g
Pistachios, dry-roasted 162 13 g
Walnuts, halved 185 18.5 g

How about nut oils? Are they healthy, too?

Nut oils also are a good source of healthy nutrients, but they lack the fiber found in whole nuts. Walnut oil is the highest in omega-3s.

Consider using nut oils in homemade salad dressing or in cooking. When cooking with nut oils, remember that they respond differently to heat than do vegetable oils. Nut oils can become bitter if overheated. Use nut oils in moderation, as they are high in fat and calories.

 

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Aug. 02, 2022

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