Find out how walnuts, almonds and other tree nuts can help lower cholesterol levels when eaten as part of a balanced diet.

There are several reasons why you’ll find nuts on almost every smart shopping list. First, they’re easy to take along if you’re on the go, or keep handy in a desk drawer or pantry. Plus, in addition to protein and other nutrients, all nuts contain fiber that lowers cholesterol levels, making you feel full longer and helping you eat less. A small handful of tree nuts can fill your diet with protein, fiber, unsaturated fats and important vitamins and minerals.

Nuts have been linked to many health benefits. Besides the “good” fats” that can lower your LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) and triglyceride levels, most tree nuts also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, which can help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries.

Another research, involving 15,467 older women from the Nurses’ Health Study, found that higher nut consumption during the six years of the study was linked to better overall cognition in women. Another analysis of nearly 120,000 people, funded in part by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation, found that people who reported eating tree nuts more frequently lived longer than those who ate them less often.

Remember to pay attention to your portions, as nuts are still a high calorie food, a serving of nuts is about a small handful.

Are all nuts equal? While all nuts contain fiber and protein, each variety also has its own health benefits. This means that the more varieties you incorporate into your diet, the better, as long as what you choose isn’t coated in chocolate, sugar, or salt (which can negate some of the health benefits).

Here’s what you need to know about all the ways each type of nut can contribute to your health.

Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet can benefit the heart. Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients. Plus, they make a great snack that’s inexpensive, easy to store and take with you when you’re on the go.

How can nuts help your heart?

Research has shown that eating tree nuts frequently reduces levels of inflammation linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Regular consumption of a healthy diet that includes nuts can:

Improve the health of the arteries
reduce inflammation linked to heart disease
reduce the risk of blood clots, which can cause heart attacks and strokes
reduce the risk of high blood pressure
reduce the risk of early death from heart disease
Reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels, including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, which can clog arteries.

What can make walnuts heart healthy?

Nuts are a good source of protein. Most tree nuts also contain at least a few of these heart-healthy substances:

Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but the “good” fats in tree nuts — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — are thought to lower bad cholesterol levels.

Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are healthy fatty acids. They can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Fibers. All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. Fiber also gives you a feeling of satiety, which makes it possible to eat less.

Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products such as margarine and orange juice to boost their health benefits, but nuts naturally contain sterols.

L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of L-arginine. Some research suggests that L-arginine may lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and overall blood vessel health.

What is a healthy serving of tree nuts?

Nuts contain fat. Even though most of these fats are healthy, the calories can still add up. This is why nuts should be eaten in moderation. Adults should aim to eat 4-6 servings of unsalted tree nuts per week as part of a healthy diet. Recommended portions for children vary by age. Ask your pediatrician how many servings of nuts are acceptable for your child.

Does the type of nuts you eat matter?

Most tree nuts seem to be generally healthy. But some may contain more heart-healthy nutrients than others. For example, nuts contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans also seem to be good for the heart. Peanuts too, though they’re not technically nuts, but legumes, like beans. It is best to choose unsalted or unsweetened nuts. Adding salt or sugar to nuts can negate their heart-healthy benefits.

Here is some nutritional information about the most common types of tree nuts. All calorie and fat measurements are based on 28.4 grams (g), unsalted nuts.

Type of nut Calories Total fat
Almonds, toasted 170 14.9 g
Almonds, raw 164 14.2 g
Brazil nuts, raw 187 19 g
Cashew nuts, 163 13.1 g
Chestnuts, roasted 70 0.6 g
Hazelnuts 178 17.2g
Macadamia nuts, 204 21.6g
Peanuts, roasted 166 14.1 g
Pecans, toasted 201 21.1 g
Pistachios, roasted 162 13 g
Walnuts, 185 18.5 g

What about nut oils? Are they also good for health?

Walnut oils are also a good source of healthy nutrients, but they lack the fiber found in whole nuts. Walnut oil is the richest in omega-3s. Consider using nut oils in homemade salad dressing or in cooking. When cooking with nut oils, remember that they react differently to heat than vegetable oils. Walnut oils can become bitter if overheated. Use nut oils in moderation, as they are high in fat and calories.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.