“Higher nut intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease” – The Journal of Nutrition
Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death and disability across the globe. It is usually associated with plaque build-up in the arteries and increased risk of blood clots.
Accumulation of plaque, called atherosclerosis, hardens and clogs the arteries. This process reduces the flow of blood to the heart’s muscle. Rupturing of plaque can cause dangerous clots, that completely block the flow of blood to vital organs. This can lead to heart attack and stroke.
It is believed that low-grade chronic inflammation plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis. While short-term, acute inflammation is good for healing, ongoing inflammation can cause body-wide damage. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle is full of factors that give rise to increased oxidative damage and chronic inflammation. Smoking, chronic stress, obesity, nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, physical inactivity and of course age are some major risk factors that cause inflammation, heart disease and other conditions that markedly increase your risk of developing heart disease.
The good news is that a healthy lifestyle – good eating habits, sound sleep and regular exercise – can prevent cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, which often go hand in hand. For example, positive intervention in your diet and lifestyle can go a long way in shedding those extra pounds and reducing the risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
Eating the right foods is one of the most important strategies when it comes to preventing the risk of heart disease. You eat food to get the energy your body needs to carry out a range of functions. But what you eat makes a huge difference. The right nutrients will arm your body to deal with inflammation, infections and diseases. A well-balanced healthy diet not only provides you with calories and energy, it offers antioxidants, fibre, vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds to keep you healthy and vibrant.
In this context, nuts come across as one of the best foods you can include in your daily diet. There is a lot of scientific data that backs the health benefits of eating handfuls of nuts per week. Nuts reduce inflammation, prevent weight gain and lower your risk of many health conditions that adversely affect your cardiovascular health.
Want to give your heart a healthy boost? Go nuts!
Nuts and your heart health
A recent 2018 study found that consuming a variety of nuts on a regular basis can prevent weight gain and also offer benefits for your heart. It was one of the two separate studies presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2018 in Chicago.
In the study that analyzed the role of nuts on weight, the researchers found that eating nuts and peanuts reduces the risk of weight gain over the long-term. It revealed that replacing foods like red meat, potato chips and processed meats with servings of a variety of nuts can reduce your risk of obesity and related heart diseases.
Xiaoran Liu, the lead author of the study explains that "Adding one ounce of nuts to your diet in place of less healthy foods -- such as red or processed meat, French fries or sugary snacks -- may help prevent that slow, gradual weight gain after you enter adulthood and reduce the risk of obesity-related cardiovascular diseases." 
A 2017 study examined the relationship between the frequency of eating nuts and the occurrence of heart disease. In what is touted as the largest study done till date on this subject, the researchers found that regular consumption of nuts (peanuts, walnuts and tree nuts) cuts down your risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke.
Even though peanuts are essentially legumes and not nuts, the study included peanuts because they are similar to other nuts in terms of their fatty acid and nutritional profile.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed the health information of close to 210,000 people over a period of 32 years. Looking at the key findings of the study:
- Eating walnuts (one or more times per week) reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 19 percent and decreases coronary heart disease risk by 21 percent.
- Eating peanuts (two or more times per week) was associated with 13 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This also cuts down coronary heart disease risk by 15 percent.
- Eating tree nuts reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 15 percent and that of coronary heart disease by 23 percent.
Another important study found that consuming nuts more than 3 times per week reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation by 18 percent. In addition, moderate intake (one to two times per week) of nuts was found to be linked with reduced risk of heart failure. And most importantly, even a small increase in nut intake may have significant impact on lowering these risks. 
Meta-analysis of many other studies show that intake of nuts reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, total coronary heart disease and total stroke. [4-5]
In fact, previous studies have shown that regular intake of nuts not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease but also associated risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and abnormally high levels of cholesterol. Studies also suggest that nuts are positively associated with reduced risk of infectious disease, respiratory disease and death. Nuts also help in healthy ageing and memory function.
A meta-analysis published in BMC medicine concluded that, “Higher nut intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality, and mortality from respiratory disease, diabetes, and infections.” 
Want to lose weight? Do nuts make a good choice?
Nuts are rich in fat and calories. Can regular consumption lead to weight gain? Since you are supposed to include nuts as a part of your regular diet, this question makes a lot of sense.
In this podcast (English language only), Marta Guasch explains that it is very much true that nuts are an energy dense food. However, there is no concrete scientific evidence that regular consumption of nuts can lead to weight gain. In fact, the intake of nuts has been associated with weight loss and reduced risk of obesity. This could be because nuts promote the feeling of satiety, reducing the craving of eating junk or unhealthy snacks when you are hungry.
A 2017 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that “Higher intake of nuts is associated with reduced weight gain and a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.” 
How nuts help?
Nuts are packed with heart healthy nutrients and this list includes unsaturated fatty acids, arginine, minerals like magnesium and zinc, vitamin E, folic acid, dietary fibre and bio-active compounds.
Unsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3s)
Nuts, such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts, contain high amounts of unsaturated fat or “good” fats. These fats are considered very healthy for your heart health. Nuts, especially walnuts, are loaded with Omega 3s – a type of unsaturated fats that are also found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. Omega 3 fats do a lot of things to keep your heart healthy:
- Reduces inflammation, the key factor in the development of heart disease
- Reduces the formation of blood clots (antithrombotic in nature).
- Reduces the risk of irregular heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks
- Decreases triglyceride levels and improves HDL levels
- Slows the rate at which arteries get clogged
- Reduces blood pressure
One of the reasons why nuts are so healthy overall is because they are loaded with bioactive compounds such as polyphenols, tocopherols and phytosterols with amazing antioxidant properties. Polyphenols are known to reduce cholesterol, improve endothelial function and prevent platelet adhesions that cause blood clots to form.
Nuts are a rich source of arginine, an amino acid that is required for the synthesis of nitric oxide (NO). NO is a heart healthy molecule that is known for its role in relaxing blood vessels and making the arterial walls more flexible and less susceptible to blood clots.
Other healthful components in nuts
Nuts also contain dietary fibre, folic acid, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium and various other healthful components. This impressive mix of nutrients make nuts good to prevent heart disease and risk factors that make one prone to develop heart disease.
Does it matter what types of nuts you eat?
As long as you include a variety of nuts – almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachio, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts – in your diet, it probably does not matter so much. However, walnuts have been found to be especially good for your heart and are tagged as one of the most heart-healthy nuts you can include in your diet. It is because walnuts:
- Are loaded with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fatty acid
- Reduce LDL cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure
- Improve the functions of endothelium, a thin layer of cells that underline the interior of the blood vessels. This effect might be due to the rich content of alpha-linolenic acid, gamma-tocopherol and phytosterols in walnuts. 
Because of their amazing nutritional profile, nuts offer an impressive array of health benefits. As a rich source of omega 3 fats, minerals, vitamin E, arginine and bioactive compounds, nuts have an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effect on your body. Overall, studies show that nuts:
- Lower inflammation
- Prevent oxidative damage to cells and tissues
- Reduce triglyceride levels
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Improve endothelial function and structural integrity
- Help you lose weight
- Reduce your risk of gaining weight
- Reduce risk of infectious diseases
- Provide healthy nutrition
Go ahead and add that nutty crunch in your diet. Just a handful of nuts five or more times per week will do the trick. The key is to keep away from salty nuts and nuts covered in chocolate. Choose raw or roasted nuts to get the maximum health benefits.
- American Heart Association. "Nuts for nuts? Daily serving may help control weight and benefit health." ScienceDaily. 2018
- Guasch-Ferré et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017
- Larsson et al. Nut consumption and incidence of seven cardiovascular diseases. BMJ. 2017.
- Grosso et al. Nut consumption on all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015
- Mayhew et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of nut consumption and incident risk of CVD and all-cause mortality. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016.
- Aune et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Medicine 2016.
- Heinz Freisling et al. Nut intake and 5-year changes in body weight and obesity risk in adults: results from the EPIC-PANACEA study. European Journal of Nutrition. 2017.
- Berryman et al. Acute Consumption of Walnuts and Walnut Components Differentially Affect Postprandial Lipemia, Endothelial Function, Oxidative Stress, and Cholesterol Efflux in Humans with Mild Hypercholesterolemia. The Journal of Nutrition. 2013.
- Penny M. Kris-Etherton. Walnuts Decrease Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Summary of Efficacy and Biologic Mechanisms. The Journal of Nutrition. 2014.