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A nutty way to help your heart

The evidence is piling up -- nuts are good for your heart. Although they are high in fat, they are low in saturated fat and cholesterol free. Most nuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), the same kind found in olive oil, or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are also found in fish oil.

Researchers studying 30,000 Seventh Day Adventists found that those who are nuts at least five times a week reduced their risk of heart attack by 50 percent, compared with those who ate them less than once a week.

What kind of nuts do you like ? If you don't overdo it, you can enjoy your favorite nuts without gaining weight and make your heart healthier to boot.

Walnuts. One study of people living in a walnut-producing area of France found that a high intake of walnuts was associated with an increase in good HDL cholesterol Walnuts also increased a substance called apo A1, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Peanuts. Technically, peanuts aren't nuts -- they're legumes. Yet, they may provide a unique way to get heart-healthy MUFAs. Peanuts contain the same antioxidant found in grape skins, and this antioxidant is partly responsible for red wine's ability to lower heart disease risk.

One study tested five different kinds of diets -- a typical American diet, a low-fat diet, an olive-oil diet, a peanut/peanut butter diet, and a peanut oil diet. The peanut diets contained small amounts of peanuts daily. The study found that the olive oil and the peanut diets, which were low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat, all lowered bad LDL cholesterol. The low-fat diet lowered bad LDL cholesterol, too, but it also lowered good HDL cholesterol and raised triglyceride levels.

Almonds. Scientists recently tested the cholesterol-lowering effects of adding almonds to the diet. Thirty men and women (ages 29 to 81) enrolled in a study at the YMCA Cardiac Rehabilitation Unit in Palo Alto, California.

The men and women in the study stayed on a low-in-saturated-fats diet for nine weeks. During that time, they are 100 grams of almonds a day ( 50 grams a whole raw almonds, and 50 grams as ground almonds ). That's the equivalent of almost four ounces per day of almonds. Each person kept a food diary, and the scientists took measurements of blood-cholesterol levels throughout the nine weeks.

At the end of the nine weeks, the investigators reported that the average total cholesterol level of 235 was reduced by about 20 points. The nearly 9-percent reduction in the total cholesterol level was due to a reduction in the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood ( the "bad cholesterol" ). Scientists explained that the almonds weren't fat-free. But, they contain monounsaturated fats ( the good fat ).

The increase in monounsaturated fats ( almonds ) and the decrease in saturated fats helped lower blood-cholesterol levels.

     
     

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