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Beyond flavor and crunch, there are plenty of good reasons to throw some nuts into your brownies, banana bread, yogurt, muffins, pancakes, salads and smoothies. Antioxidants, lower oxidized cholesterol and better heart health are just a few of the benefits of indulging in nuts.
According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, eating more nuts is associated with improved blood cholesterol levels.
Researchers from Loma Linda University in California gathered data from 25 studies on eating nuts conducted in seven countries and involving 583 women and men with high or normal cholesterol levels. All the studies compared a control group to a group assigned to eat nuts.
Every day study participants ate an average of 2.4 ounces of nuts – equivalent to about 50 almonds. This was associated with an average 5.1 percent reduction in total cholesterol, a 7.4 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad" cholesterol) and an 8.3 percent improvement in the ratio of LDL cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good" cholesterol). In addition, triglyceride levels declined by 10.2 percent.
The authors of the study (funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation) claim their results support including nuts in therapeutic dietary interventions for improving blood cholesterol levels. In a press release they stated:
Nuts are a whole food that have been consumed by humans throughout history. Increasing the consumption of nuts as part of an otherwise prudent diet can be expected to favorably affect blood lipid levels (at least in the short term) and have the potential to lower coronary heart disease risk.
The study found benefits in all types of nuts, which are rich in healthy fats, high quality protein, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and phytosterols and have long been associated with heart health.
Walnuts Are Number One in Antioxidants
Of all nuts, however, walnuts warrant special attention. An analysis presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society concluded that walnuts have a combination of more healthful antioxidants and higher quality antioxidants than any other nut.
According to the author, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., of the University of Scranton, walnuts have almost twice as much antioxidants as an equivalent amount of other commonly eaten nuts. He analyzed nine different types of nuts: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, and pecans.
Vinson also found that walnuts boast the highest quality, or potency, of antioxidants. He measured the antioxidants in walnuts as 2-15 times more potent than vitamin E.
And walnuts have another advantage because most people enjoy them raw. The heat from roasting nuts can reduce the quality of their antioxidants but raw nuts preserve more antioxidants intact.
Walnuts are also an excellent source of heart healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids with a quarter-cup providing over 90% of the recommended daily value. They are also a good source of monounsaturated fats which other studies have shown have a favorable effect on cholesterol.
Walnuts have been associated with better cognitive function, as well as anti-inflammatory effects that are beneficial in relieving asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis. In addition, they contain an antioxidant that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties. [view additional walnut health benefit research on GreenMedInfo.com]
Years of research link regular consumption of small amounts of all sorts of nuts or peanut butter with decreased risk of heart disease, certain kinds of cancer, gallstones, Type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.
But apparently the wide-ranging health benefits of nuts are not fully appreciated since Vinson's research shows that nuts account for barely eight percent of the daily antioxidants in the average person's diet.
Because nuts are high in fat and calories many people try to avoid them. But eating nuts does not appear to cause weight gain and even makes people feel full and less likely to overeat. In a 2009 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, higher nut consumption was associated with a significantly lower risk of weight gain and obesity.
Vinson says that it takes only about 7 walnuts a day to get the potential health benefits, so add a handful every day in your meals or snacks.