Category Archives: nuts

Pecans may be good for the heart

Nuts are rich in various mono- and poly-unsaturated ‘good’ fats.  They also contain many different forms of vitamin E as well as fibre, magnesium and other minerals.  Nuts and seeds are an important part of a healthy diet.  The various forms of vitamin E as well as many phenols (bioactive plant nutrients) contained in the nuts have antioxidant capabilities.  New research (1) has found that the naturally occurring antioxidants in pecan nuts may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention.  Pecan nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols.

The study was small, involving 16 men and women aged between 23 and 44.  Paticipants were given a sequence of 3 test meals composed of – whole pecans, pecans blended with water, or a control meal of equivalent nutrient composition.  The pecan meals contained about 75g of the nut.  Blood and urine samples were taken before and up to 24 hours after eating the nuts.  The samples were analysed to check for levels of vitamin E tocopherols, ‘oxygen radical absorbance capacity’ (ORAC) – a scientific method for measuring antioxidant power in the blood and oxidised LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) levels.

The researchers found (1) that levels of gamma-tocopherols (vitamin E) in the body doubled after eight hours when eating both pecan-containing meals, and antioxidant, ORAC, capabilities increased 10-12 % two hours after the meals.  It was also found that 3 hours after eating the whole-pecan meal, oxidized LDL cholesterol decreased by 30%, 33% after 3 hours, and 26% after 8 hours.  There was also a favourable effect on blood triglyceride (blood fat) levels.  The authors of the study conclude that : (1)These results show that bioactive constituent of pecans are absorbable and contribute to postprandial [after eating] antioxidant defences”.

These results are important, high oxidized LDL cholesterol levels may further contribute to inflammation in the arteries and place people at greater risk of cardiovascular problems.  Ella Haddad, lead author of the study said in a press release (2)Our tests show that eating pecans increases the amount of healthy antioxidants in the body,” “This protective effect is important in helping to prevent development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease.” “This study is another piece of evidence that pecans are a healthy food,”  “Previous research has shown that pecans contain antioxidant factors. Our study shows these antioxidants are indeed absorbed in the body and provide a protective effect against diseases.”

Nuts are often shunned by people as they are perceived to be a high fat food.  As I have previously written, these foods are a rich source of nutrition and may also help to control appetite and improve cholesterol levels.

(1)Hudthagosol C et al.  2010.  Pecans Acutely Increase Plasma Postprandial Antioxidant Capacity and Catechins and Decrease LDL Oxidation in Humans.  Journal of Nutrition.  141 (1): 56

(2)Press Release. Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center (2011, February 24). Antioxidants in pecans may contribute to heart health and disease prevention. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/02/110224145607.htm

Written by Ani Kowal

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Review looks at ways to tackle high blood fat levels

High triglyceride levels, hypertriglyceridemia, and to some extent high levels of certain types of cholesterol are considered a risk for metabolic syndrome (which I have written about in detail here).  To recap:

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.  According to the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, having metabolic syndrome doubles a person’s risk of heart disease and quintuples their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

An individual is considered to have metabolic syndrome if they have three or more of the following:

*Excess abdominal obesity (carrying weight around the stomach, as measured by waist circumference)

*High triglyceride levels (blood fats)

*Low levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)

*High blood pressure

*High blood sugar levels or type 2 diabetes

Hyperlipidemia is used to describe high levels of cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides, or blood fats.

Most doctors will prescribe statins, or other lipid (fat) lowering medicines to people in at risk categories, however, as I have previously mentioned statins may not be the answer and the widespread use of statins has been questioned.  Also there is increasing evidence for natural alternatives to statin medications.

A newly published review paper (1) has explored some of the alternatives to medication, mainly plant sterols/stanols, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and nuts, and urges the medical community to begin using these alternatives as a viable option with their patients.  The paper challenges current medical guidelines by emphasising the fact that there are viable ‘nutritional’ interventions that can be used during all stages of treatment of hyperlipidemia.

In their paper the scientists write “Functional foods and nutraceuticals are not merely lifestyle interventions. Similar to pharmaceutical agents, FFN [functional foods and nutraceuticals] contain bioactive substances that, when administered at therapeutic doses, target and modulate biological processes that foster the development of disease. Thus, the gap that currently exists between FFN research and the medical community needs to be closed such that FFN can be implemented into clinical guidelines so that treatments for hyperlipidemia can be optimized throughout all stages of therapy”.  As stated above, the ‘alternative’ food/nutritional approaches to lowering blood fat levels work via complex pathways in the body, they are not merely ‘faddy’ approaches and there is considerable scientific research to validate their use (1) their effects go beyond that of simply providing the body with nutrition.

The review paper goes into detail describing the biochemical pathways through which natural agents can have a positive impact in the body.  With regards the long chain omega 3 fatty acids the authors highlight that the triglyceride-lowering effects of omega 3 fatty acids have been thoroughly researched and that studies consistently show that supplements (2-4g per day) can reduce circulating triglyceride levels by up to 34% in patients with high levels.  Research has also shown that these fatty acids can reduce the risk of mortality (death).  The paper also looks at the evidence that dietary fibre and nuts can also play a role in lowering blood fat levels(1).

Rightly the authors also write “The purpose of this commentary is not to discourage the use of pharmaceuticals. Such interventions are an invaluable part of global healthcare systems. The present aim is to emphasize that not only do specific FFN target biological processes that propagate hyperlipidemia, but that certain FFN can serve as beneficial adjunctive treatments which enhance pharmacotherapy”.  The authors go on to describe how there are good studies which show that combining these ‘alternative’ treatments with pharmaceutical agents can provide better results than using the medicines alone – they call for further research in this area and recognise that the medical community would need training in order to utilise such combined therapy “Nonetheless, the advent of combination FFN/prescription therapies will require that physicians undergo additional nutritional training and likely enhance dietitians’ role in executing patient treatment regimens, especially when whole foods are utilized as vehicles for administering FFN”.

 

They conclude that “Despite clinical studies showing that therapeutic dosages of FFN effectively target and modulate biological processes that foster the development of hyperlipidemia, FFN continue to be overshadowed by prescription medications as patients progress through consecutive stages of treatment. Research demonstrates that specific FFN are efficacious adjuncts to pharmacotherapy for the treatment of hyperlipidemia. Hence, it is imperative that developments in FFN research are incorporated into current clinical guidelines that are used for treating HC [hypercholesterolemia] and HTG [hypertriglyceridemia]. In the wake of current prevalence rates of hyperlipidemia amongst people with metabolic syndrome FFN can serve as efficacious adjuncts to pharmo-therapy during all stages of treatment

It is my hope that more of the medical community begin to realise how effective certain nutrients can be in preventing and treating disease.  If you are currently receiving medical treatment for high blood fat/cholesterol levels you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of beginning omega 3 supplements and adding plant sterol/stanol products into your diet.

(1)Christopher PF Marinangeli CPF & Jones  PJH.  2010.  Plant sterols, marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids and other functional ingredients: a new frontier for treating hyperlipidemia.  Nutrition & Metabolism.   7:76doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-76

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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Eating nuts might help to improve cholesterol levels

Nuts and seeds feature almost daily in my diet and are certainly a food that I regularly recommend.  I wrote a piece specifically about almonds a few years ago and since then evidence has continued to accumulate for the health benefits of these foods.  Recently (1) an analysis of published research has found that nuts seem to improve blood lipid (fat) levels.

The report (1) analysed data from 25 trials and found that consuming more nuts seems to be associated with improvements in blood cholesterol levels.  The authors note that: “Recently, consumption of nuts has been the focus of intense research because of their potential to reduce coronary heart disease risk and to lower blood lipid [fat and cholesterol] levels based on their unique nutritional attributes.”   Lowering blood cholesterol concentrations and triglyceride levels has become a cornerstone in preventing coronary heart disease as well as becoming part of the treatment plan process.

The data from the 25 trials (1) came from seven countries and involved over 550 women and men with high or normal cholesterol levels.  All of the studies compared a group who were asked to consume nuts to a control group who were not consuming nuts.  None of the participants in the studies were taking cholesterol lowering medications.  The individuals consuming nuts had an average of 67g daily.  Eating nuts was associated with an average 5.1 % reduction in total cholesterol concentration, a 7.4% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) and an 8.3 % change in ratio of LDL cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol).  In addition to this, those who consumed nuts and had high triglyceride (blood fat) levels at the start of the trial experienced a 10.2% decline in triglycerides.  The authors note that the lipid-lowering effects of nut consumption were greatest amongst the individuals who what the highest baseline LDL-C levels and those who were consuming less healthy ‘western’ diets (high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates) as well as those who were not overweight.

The authors say that different types of nuts had similar effects on blood lipid levels and conclude that (1)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.”

Numerous studies suggest that people who regularly consume nuts (around 30g per day) are slimmer than those who do not.  A review (2) stated  “There are claims that energy-dense foods are especially problematic for weight loss and maintenance. Nuts are among the most energy-dense foods consumed, yet the literature consistently documents little impact of their ingestion on body weight”  Nuts seem to satisfy the appetite, they make us feel full and may therefore prevent us overeating on other, less nutritious foods.  This could be due to the fact that, as well as healthy fats, nuts also contain protein and release their energy very slowly into the bloodstream. Evidence also suggests that not all of the fat in nuts is absorbed into the body, much of it being passed out in the stool. 

Nuts are packed with minerals, vitamins, fibre, protein and healthy fats.  The fat in nuts is mainly monounsaturated fat, the same as olive oil, which appears to reduce risk of heart disease.  Nuts are also rich in vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and fibre – all of these nutrients are great for heart health.  Brazil nuts are also very high in selenium which is linked to a reduced risk of cancer and walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids which have many health properties.  Nuts are energy dense so consuming vast quantities is not necessary, replacing a less healthfull snack, such as a bag of crisps or a sugary cereal/chocolate bar, with a small portion of nuts 30-50g may be a good way to improve the quality of the daily diet.

(1) Sabaté J et al.  2010.  Nut Consumption and Blood Lipid Levels.  A Pooled Analysis of 25 Intervention Trials .  Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):821-827.

(2)Mattes RD et al.  2008.  Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J Nutr 2008;138:1741S-1745S

Written by Ani Kowal

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Crack a few nuts and indulge with a little dark chocolate. Christmas food, Part II

Dark chocolate, the varieties containing 85% -90% cocoa solids, is something that I really do enjoy (as regular readers of my blog will already know)!  I take comfort in knowing that this treat is also quite healthy.  Numerous studies have now linked the eating of dark chocolate to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancers, as well as other conditions.  The health benefits appear to come from the antioxidant flavonoids (bioactive plant nutrients) contained within the cocoa and also from the many minerals that cocoa contains such as magnesium.  Dark chocolate also contains fibre and is much lower in sugar than milk chocolate, so most people find that they need far less to satisfy their chocolate cravings.



As a child I remember being told not to spoil my appetite by eating too much chocolate before the Christmas meal so I was pleased to read a report produced by the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at the University of Copenhagen, the paper details some research that the scientists there have carried out on dark chocolate and appetite (1).



The scientists have found that dark chocolate is far more filling than milk chocolate and may lessen our craving for milk chocolate which is sweet, salty and provides very little in the way of nutrition.  Eating a few squares of good quality dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids or over, may well satisfy chocolate cravings and hence prevent further binges and large Christmas weight gains.



To compare the effects of dark and milk chocolate on both appetite and subsequent calorie intake, 16 young, healthy men of normal weight who all liked both dark and milk chocolate took part in an experiment over two separate sessions.  In the first instance dark chocolate was tested and in the second stage, occurring on a different day, milk chocolate was tested.  Prior to the experiment all the participants fasted for 12 hours, so they were hungry.  They were than given 100g of chocolate to consume within 15 minutes.  The calorie content of both the dark and milk chocolate was the same.  After they had eaten the chocolate they were asked to register their appetite every half an hour for the next five hours.  Two and a half hours after having eaten the chocolate the individuals were offered pizza and instructed to eat until they felt comfortably satisfied.  The results were analysed by the scientists and were significant in that after eating dark chocolate the individuals consumed 15% fewer calories from the pizza than when they had eaten milk chocolate.  The participants also recorded that they felt less like eating after consuming the dark chocolate, it made them feel fuller for longer. 



So, in addition to providing us with nutrients and antioxidant, dark chocolate may well help to fill us up and prevent us from over-indulging on unhealthier foods this Christmas.  The appetite controlling effects of the dark chocolate could be down to the nutrients it contains or perhaps the fibre content.  Of course, I am not suggesting gorging on dark chocolate but a few pieces may not be as bad as you once thought!!



Nuts are another Christmas food that some people tend to avoid, thinking they are fatty and full of calories.  As I mentioned last week, nuts are a healthy natural food and we could all do well from eating a regular handful of unsalted, unroasted nuts.



Nuts are packed with nutrients, fibre and healthy fats.  Numerous studies suggest that people who regularly consume nuts (around 30g per day) are slimmer than those who do not.  Nuts also make a great snack as they help dampen the appetite and prevent later overeating.  The fat in nuts is mainly monounsaturated fat, the same as olive oil, which appears to reduce risk of heart disease.  Nuts are also rich in vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and fibre – all of these nutrients are great for heart health.  Brazil nuts are also very high in selenium which is linked to a reduced risk of cancer and walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids which have many health properties.


Previously I posted a blog dedicated to the health benefits of almonds.  A recent review (2) summarised the available evidence on nuts and body weight and weight loss.  The authors write  “There are claims that energy-dense foods are especially problematic for weight loss and maintenance. Nuts are among the most energy-dense foods consumed, yet the literature consistently documents little impact of their ingestion on body weight”  Nuts seem to satisfy the appetite, they make us feel full and may therefore prevent us overeating on other, less nutritious foods.  This could be due to the fact that, as well as healthy fats, nuts also contain protein and release their energy very slowly into the bloodstream,they have a very low glycaemic index or GI. Evidence also suggests that not all of the fat in nuts is absorbed into the body, much of it being passed out in the stool. 



Cracking a few nuts this Christmas may be a great way to boost health!


(1)University of Copenhagen
(2) Mattes RD et al.  2008.  Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J Nutr 2008;138:1741S-1745S


Written by Ani Kowal

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