Nuts about Nuts? Your Heart Says Thanks

Nuts about nuts? Good for you! They make everything from brownies to cookies taste better, they're delicious in stir-fries, and they add texture and crunch to salads. Best of all, nuts are good for your cardiovascular health, so feel free to work them into your daily meal plan.

"There's a substance on the outside of nuts that makes them actually protective of the heart," says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "Nuts can actually help to reduce the LDL, or bad, cholesterol."

Not only do nuts lower the bad cholesterol and the total cholesterol, but "to some extent they raise the good cholesterol," says Elsa Grace Giardina, MD, a cardiologist at NewYork Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center in New York City. "And they tend to reduce a person's triglyceride levels, too."

So which nuts are best for you, and how much should you be eating? 

  • The most heart-healthy nuts are almonds, walnuts and pistachios, Giardina says. Peanuts are also good - though technically, these are a legume.
  • Besides being good for your heart, nuts are a good source of fiber and protein. Just a handful can keep you feeling full a lot longer than if you snack on, say, potato chips or popcorn.
  • Watch portion size, says Merle Myerson, MD, preventive cardiologist and director of the Saint Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital's cardiovascular disease prevention program in New York City. Keep in mind that one cashew has 25 calories - and let's face it: who stops at one! Peanut butter, which confers all the benefits of peanuts, is calorie-dense, too. There's typically 100 calories in 1 tablespoon.
  • Not sure what constitutes a serving? One handful, or about 10 nuts, says Steinbaum.
  • Avoid salted nuts, says Myerson, since these are high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure.
  • Think of nuts as a garnish on food rather than as something to eat in large quantities. Sprinkle walnuts over your oatmeal, put some almonds in your yogurt, and if you are having a bowl of fat-free frozen yogurt, sprinkle with some chopped peanuts.
  • Salads are a great way to enjoy the crunch of nuts. A delicious cold weather salad consists of baby greens, dried cranberries, pistachios and thin slices of apple, all tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. Or try sprinkling some walnuts over a fresh fruit salad.
  • Nut butters can be a great way to get the health benefits of nuts. Try some of the more unusual varieties,  such as almond. Spread a wholegrain waffle with almond butter and top with some fresh fruit for a heart-healthy breakfast. Or make whole wheat peanut butter toast topped with a sliced half banana for a mid afternoon snack.