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Nutrition

Get some nuts

Just a daily handful of almonds can help cut the risk of cholesterol-associated heart disease. A handful of almonds a day can boost ‘good’ cholesterol and cut ‘bad’ cholesterol, a university study has found.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University compared the levels and function of ‘good’ or HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in people who ate almonds every day to those in people who ate a buttered banana muffin instead.

They found that a daily dose of unsalted almonds improved HDL levels by 19%, as well as boosting the removal of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

The author of the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Professor Penny Kris-Etherton, said: “A lot of research shows that a diet which includes almonds lowers low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. But not as much was known about how almonds affect HDL cholesterol, which is considered good cholesterol and helps lower your risk of heart disease.”

In the controlled-feeding study, 48 men and women with high levels of LDL cholesterol participated in two six-week diet periods. In both, their diets were identical except for the daily snack. On the almond diet, participants received 43g — about a handful — of almonds a day. During the control period they received a banana muffin instead.

Blood samples were taken to determine the participants’ cholesterol levels at the beginning of the study and after each six-week period. Results revealed that eating a handful of almonds a day significantly improved people’s good cholesterol levels and improved cholesterol function by 6.4 per cent, resulting in more plaque being removed from arteries.

Professor Kris-Etherton said: “HDL is very small when it gets released into circulation. It’s like a garbage bag that slowly gets bigger and more spherical as it gathers cholesterol from cells and tissues before depositing them in the liver to be broken down.

“We were able to show that there were more larger particles in response to consuming the almonds compared to not consuming almonds. That would translate to the smaller particles doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

“They’re going to tissues and pulling out cholesterol, getting bigger, and taking that cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body.”

Almonds can also boost overall health as they are a good source of healthy fats, calcium, vitamin E and fibre.

“If people incorporate almonds into their diet they should expect multiple benefits, including ones that can improve heart health,” said the professor.

“They’re not a cure-all, but when eaten in moderation – and especially when eaten instead of a food of lower nutritional value – they’re a great addition to an already healthy diet.”

What nuts can do for you

Almonds

A good source of healthy fats, calcium, vitamin E and fibre,they also help to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol.  

Brazil nuts

These contain selenium, which helps our body produce thyroid hormones, supports immunity and helps healing. Eating three to four nuts a day is plenty.

Cashews

Rich in magnesium, which may help cognitive ability, these crescent-shaped seeds of the cashew apple include minerals such as iron and zinc, as well as being a good source of protein.

Hazelnuts

A good source of folate, which can help keep down levels of homocysteine, an amino acid which has been associated with heart problems and Parkinson’s disease.

Peanuts

If you avoid the roasted or salted version (and keep the portion modest), then you’ll reap the same benefits as with other tree nuts – lots of vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre.

Walnuts

Rich in omega-3, protein, fibre and vitamin E, walnuts are also high in antioxidants, which help protect the body against disease. Studies have shown that eating walnuts can boost male fertility.