A recent study from the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona found eating about ½ cup of walnuts every day for two years modestly lowered levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol” in healthy, older adults.
They found eating walnuts daily could the number of total LDL particles and small LDL particles.
Walnuts are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), which have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.
Prior studies have shown that nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, are associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke.
One of the reasons is that they lower LDL-cholesterol levels, and now this study found another reason: they improve the quality of LDL particles.
LDL particles come in various sizes. Research has shown that small, dense LDL particles are more often associated with atherosclerosis, the plaque or fatty deposits that build up in the arteries.
In the study, researchers tested 708 healthy participants between the ages of 63 and 79 (68% women). Participants were divided into two groups: active intervention and control.
Those allocated to the intervention group added about a half cup of walnuts to their usual daily diet, while participants in the control group abstained from eating any walnuts.
After two years, the team found participants in the walnut group had lower LDL cholesterol levels – by an average of 4.3 mg/dL, and total cholesterol was lowered by an average of 8.5 mg/dL.
Daily consumption of walnuts reduced the number of total LDL particles by 4.3% and small LDL particles by 6.1%.
These changes in LDL particle concentration and composition are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Intermediate Density Lipoprotein (IDL) cholesterol also decreased. It is known that IDL cholesterol is a precursor to LDL and refers to a density between that of low-density and very-low-density lipoproteins.
In the last decade, IDL cholesterol has emerged as a relevant lipid heart risk factor independent of LDL cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol changes among the walnut group differed by sex; in men, LDL cholesterol fell by 7.9% and in women by 2.6%.
The team says eating a handful of walnuts every day is a simple way to promote cardiovascular health.
Many people are worried about unwanted weight gain when they include nuts in their diet. This study found that the healthy fats in walnuts did not cause participants to gain weight.
According to the American Heart Association, walnuts are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, the same heart-healthy fat found in oily fish. A serving size is a small handful or 1.5 ounces of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter.
The study was published in Circulation and conducted by Emilio Ros, et al.
For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about how COVID-19 damages the heart, and results showing DASH diet could help reduce 10-year heart disease risk in just 8 weeks.
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