Go Nuts to Lower Cholesterol
New research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that despite being high in fat, eating hazelnuts actually helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels in men.
The small study included 15 men who all had high blood cholesterol. For the first four weeks of the study, the men followed a low-fat, low-cholesterol and high-carb diet, where 25 to 30% of calories came from fat. Then for the next four weeks, they followed the same diet but also included 40g of hazelnuts every day so that 35 to 40% of calories came from fat, with most of these coming from monounsaturated fats. Due to the addition of hazelnuts, the calorie content of the diet also increased, on average, from 2,033 calories to 2,284 calories a day – an extra 251 calories.
Blood tests were taken at the start and after each four-week period to identify levels of the different types of fat in the blood.
Interestingly, there were no changes in the weight, Body Mass Index or waist-to-hip ratio of the men throughout the study. However, after including the hazelnuts in their diet, HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol rose by almost 13 percent and several ‘bad’ fats significantly dropped.
The researchers conclude that a diet high in total fat due to the inclusion of hazelnuts – a rich source of monounsaturates – is better than a low-fat diet in terms of lowering the risk of heart disease.
Many studies have shown that frequently eating nuts is associated with improved cholesterol levels and as a result, a reduced risk of heart disease.
This is mainly because nuts are a good source of monounsaturates but also possibly because they contain other heart-healthy ingredients like soluble fibre and vitamin E.
In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America approved a health claim regarding the relationship between eating nuts and the reduced risk of heart disease. The claim states, “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1½oz of most nuts, such as peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
While many studies have looked at nut consumption and heart disease, this is one of only a handful of studies that has looked specifically at the role hazelnuts may play in improving heart health.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this was only a small study with just 15 men. However, in light of all the other evidence that’s available, it would seem that hazelnuts – like most other nuts – have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels.
One of the surprising findings from this study is that despite consuming considerably more calories – on average, an extra 251 calories daily – the men didn’t gain weight. Indeed, their percentage of body fat actually decreased from 26.3% to 23.5% after eating the hazelnuts for four weeks. The authors offer no explanation for this but it’s something that’s certainly worth investigating further.
Certainly, studies have found that people often find it easier to lose weight on a moderate-fat diet rather than a low-fat diet because it’s easier to stick to. But these moderate-fat diets have also usually included a moderate calorie restriction, too.
Until more research is carried out, WLR believes if you want to eat more nuts, you should remember to include them as part of your daily calorie allowance – rather than having them in addition. And of course, for good health, opt for unsalted nuts to keep salt intakes down.
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www.heartuk.org.uk - The Cholesterol Charity
H.E.A.R.T UK - ‘We’re passionate about preventing premature deaths caused by high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease’.
The Charity provides information, advice and support, a telephone helpline and a membership scheme.
The staff are committed to raising awareness about the risks and causes of high cholesterol and funding research into detection and treatment of those with high cholesterol.