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February 10, 2016

Go Nuts for Your Heart

Portable and tasty, nuts are a great protein-filled snack to help get you through the day. The wonder of this power food doesn’t end at protein alone. Nuts are also packed with a healthy dose of fiber, unsaturated fats, and several vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Coincidentally, all these wonderful attributes are an added plus to your heart as well, making nuts a welcome staple to any heart healthy diet. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts per week to help keep your heart in tip top shape.

A standard serving of nuts is equivalent to one small handful, which is about 1.5 ounces of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter (such as peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter). Many nuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent in helping reduce triglyceride levels and some evidence suggests it can help lower blood pressure as well as stimulate blood circulation.

A great alternative to snacks that are high in saturated fats, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease, nuts contain much healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. With a satisfying flavor and crunch, they are a far better choice than say a bag of Doritos, candy bar, or cookies.

Aside from just snacking, nuts can also be used as an option over cheeses and red meat when preparing meals. They can be added to salads, pasta dishes, used as a topping on fish and chicken, or even pureed to add a flavorful complexity to many soup recipes.

However, before going on a nut eating binge, keep in mind not all nuts are created equal. Like most processed foods and snacks, some nuts contain unwholesome ingredients such as added sugar, an abundance of salt, or cooked in unhealthy oils. Many food companies add these unnecessary ingredients so consumers will eat more…and subsequently buy more of their product.

Unfortunately, the likes of adding sugar, salt, and unhealthy oils can counteract the otherwise heart healthy benefits of less adulterated nuts. Additionally, while nuts contain healthy fats they are composed of 80 percent fat. Because they are so calorie dense, this is one of the reasons why the American Heart Association sticks to their recommendation of eating four servings of nuts per week.

As you head out to the store to stock up on nuts here’s a few things to keep in mind to insure your selections stay in line with your heart healthy goals:

• Raw and unsalted are varieties are the best overall choice

• If raw and unsalted are not available, opt for “dry roasted” (those that are not dry roasted typically are roasted using unhealthy fats/oils) and “lightly salted” (do still look at the product label and be mindful of total sodium count)

• Avoid nuts and nut mixes with any added sugar (the salt/sweet combination tricks your brain into telling your body to eat more and more)

• Steer clear of coated nuts, which is another method of adding sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. Examples of coated nuts include chocolate covered, candy coated, or those smothered in artificial flavorings

According to Hillary Beeler, MS, RD, LD (Clinical and Outpatient Dietician at Odessa Regional Medical Center), Even “if you already eat healthy foods, adding a few servings of nuts per week will enhance the heart healthy benefits of your diet.”

She also adds “although nuts are high in calories, studies show that including them as part of a healthy diet will not lead to weight gain, and it might even help to lose fat.” So, whether it’s walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or pecans, incorporating nuts into your diet can have a positive impact for your heart and overall cardiovascular health. Get cracking and go nuts for your heart.