Following a healthy, balanced diet offers protection against a host of serious health complications. One of the most harmful being cardiovascular disease – a major cause of death in the UK. Certain foods have been shown to slash the risk of developing the deadly complication, as well as tackling obesity – a major risk factor. A growing body of evidence suggests eating nuts can help to avert the risk of developing heart disease.
Recent research presented at ESC Congress 2019 together with the World Congress of Cardiology suggests eating nuts at least twice a week can cut a person’s risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 17 percent.
The study authors attribute the health benefits to the fact that nuts are a rich source of unsaturated fat. As the British Heart Foundation explains, a diet high in saturated fat has been shown to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. This is linked to an increased risk of heart and circulatory disease.
“They also have protein, minerals, vitamins, fibre, phytosterols, and polyphenols which benefit heart health,” noted the study authors.
Phytosterols and polyphenols are plant-based compounds that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
To investigate the link between nuts and heart health, the study followed a total of 5,432 adults aged 35 and older with no history of cardiovascular disease. The participants were randomly selected from urban and rural areas of the Isfahan, Arak and Najafabad counties in Iran.
Intake of nuts including walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and seeds was assessed in 2001 with a validated food frequency questionnaire.
Participants or family members were interviewed every two years until 2013 for the occurrence of cardiovascular events and death.
Another study singles out almonds for its heart-healthy benefits. Research led by Professor Helen Griffiths, Professor in Biomedical Sciences and Executive Dean of the School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University in Birmingham, found that almonds significantly increase the amount of antioxidants in the blood stream, reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow.
Antioxidants are molecules that help fight oxidation. Oxidation is a normal chemical process that takes place in the body. It is a mechanism can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
The researchers tested the effects of a short-term almond-enriched diet on healthy young and middle-aged men as well as on a group of young men with cardiovascular risk factors including having high blood pressure or being overweight.
A control group ate what they normally would, while another group consumed snacks of 50g of almonds a day for one month.
At the end of the study period, the group eating an almond-enriched diet had higher levels of antioxidants (alpha-tocopherol) in their blood stream, improved blood flow and lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk of heart disease.
Professor Griffiths said: “Our study confirms that almonds are a superfood. Previous studies have shown that they keep your heart healthy, but our research proves that it isn’t too late to introduce them into your diet — adding even a handful (around 50g) every day for a short period can help.”