Heart disease is no joke. It’s the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, and the second leading cause of death in Canada, behind only cancer. Today, approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults over 20 years old have some type of heart disease.
The biggest cause behind the heart disease epidemic: poor diet. Of course there are other causes, like smoking, being sedentary and becoming obese, but at its foundation, it stems from eating a poor diet filled with processed foods, which ultimately leads to obesity and all sorts of health problems, including heart disease.
But instead of fear-mongering and telling you all the things you shouldn’t be doing, let’s go the other way today. Let’s talk about some foods you can eat to help keep your heart healthy.
Starting with NUTS!
Various research, such as this study published in Nutrients, has shown that including nuts in your diet can help reduce various heart-related problems, including:
1. Lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
It is believed that the high-fibre nature of nuts helps lower LDL levels – aka the bad cholesterol – as well as prevent type 2 diabetes. Further, certain nuts contain plant sterols, which also help lower cholesterol.
2. Lowering your triglyceride levels
When triglyceride levels are too high, your chances of having plaque buildup in your arteries increases dramatically. Nuts contain lots of vitamin E, which is known to prevent plaque from building up in your arteries.
3. Reducing inflammation
The omega-3 fatty acids in nuts have been shown to reduce inflammation, known to decrease the chance heart disease, and contribute to an overall healthier heart.
4. Reducing your chance of having blood clots
L-arginine in nuts contributes to keeping your arteries more flexible and less susceptible to blood clots.
Top Seven Nuts for Cardiovascular Health
Walnuts are believed to promote low blood pressure and good blood flow, especially in those with diabetes, as this study from Yale University suggests.
Beyond blood pressure and blood flow, almonds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids – specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). And this 2014 study showed walnuts help decrease the level of apolipoprotein B in our bodies, which is another known risk factor for heart disease.
One 28-gram serving of almonds has 14 grams of healthy fats, six grams of protein, six grams of carbohydrates and 3.5 grams of fibre and has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. There is also evidence almonds can help reduce blood pressure, as well as lower blood sugar and inflammation in those with diabetes.
Further, various clinical diet studies have concluded that almonds also decrease your risk of becoming insulin resistant and developing type 2 diabetes.
3. Macadamia nuts
Like walnuts, macadamia nuts are thought to reduce LDL and increase your good cholesterol (HDL). They’re also high in flavonoids, which transform antioxidants in our body. Further, macadamia nuts have anti-inflammatory qualities and are also thought to help reduce blood pressure.
Hazelnuts increase the vitamin E in your blood, which helps reduce plaque build-up in your arteries. Beyond heart health, vitamin E is also thought to improve cognitive function.
Like almonds and macadamia nuts, pistachios are believed to improve cholesterol levels. They’re also useful for decreasing other heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure and oxidative status (blood levels of oxidized chemicals known to lead to heart disease). Finally, pistachios reduce the rise in blood sugars right after eating a meal.
Though cashews aren’t actually nuts – technically they’re a legume – we often consider them a nut and they have many nut-like qualities, including being heart-healthy.
Some research shows cashews are useful for improving blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome. Meanwhile, other research has suggested cashews are useful for reducing blood pressure and increasing good cholesterol levels.
7. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are high in selenium, an essential mineral that helps reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and bad cholesterol levels. Selenium is also an antioxidant, which protects your cells against free radicals that can lead to heart disease, as well as other diseases.
Not only does one 28-gram serving of Brazil nuts give you all the selenium you need for the day, they’re also great for improving blood vessel function and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
What about Peanuts?
Peanuts have been getting a bad reputation recently, the thought being they’re not as healthy as many other nuts. But even peanuts have been shown to contribute to a healthy heart.
In fact, this study from The BMJ showed that those who ate peanuts lowered their risk of heart disease by 34 per cent. Of course it’s one study, so take it with a grain of salt, but maybe delicious peanuts, which also happen to be the least expensive nut, might be pretty good for you after all.
So… go nuts!