Nuts enhance heart health because of their unique protein, fat, sterol and vitamin profile:
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- Heart-healthy protein: Most nuts are high in arginine, an amino acid that reduces cholesterol levels and, as a precursor to nitric oxide, dilates blood vessels, thus reducing blood pressure and the risk of angina, congestive heart failure and heart attack.
- Heart-healthy fats: Most of the fat in nuts consists of the polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 varieties that reduce blood cholesterol levels. Numerous clinical studies have found that almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachio nuts and walnuts all reduce total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in people with normal-to-high cholesterol levels. And, the fatty compounds in nuts' phytosterols inhibit accumulation of fats in artery walls, which promotes angina, strokes and heart attacks.
- Heart-healthy vitamins: Vitamin E—an antioxidant in which almonds are especially rich—helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol that leads to fatty buildup in the arteries. The B vitamin folate, found in many nuts, lowers high blood levels of homocysteine, a strong predictor of heart disease.
- Heart-healthy minerals: Nuts and seeds are generally rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, all of which serve to reduce blood pressure.
- Heart-healthy phytochemicals: The coatings of all nuts and seeds—such as the thin brown papery layer coating almonds and peanuts—are rich in the antioxidant polyphenols associated with reduced risk of heart disease. (Processed nuts and seeds possess fewer of these antioxidants: choose raw nuts in the shell when possible.) Walnuts in particular are high in alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that is protective to the heart and circulation.