When that afternoon slump hits, reaching for a bag of chips may sound like a yummy idea, but the truth is that the lack of nutrients means they won’t do a great job of boosting your energy or making you feel satiated. You know what will? Nuts!
Nuts are a widely accessible plant-based protein, but there’s a lot of confusion about whether or not they’re actually good for you. After all, they do have a lot of fat and are often covered in salt. If you’re eating with heart health in mind, both of those traits can sound as if they’re at odds with your health goals. According to cardiologists, nuts can be a healthy snack, as long as there are a few guidelines in place. In fact, there’s one particular nut that’s especially beneficial for heart health.
What Cardiologists Have to Say About Nuts and Heart Health
It’s time to settle the debate about whether or not nuts are a heart-healthy snack once and for all. The verdict? They are. “All nuts are generally healthy to eat,” says Dr. Anjali Dutta, MD, a cardiovascular specialist with Morristown Medical Center, part of Atlantic Health System. But in order to truly keep nuts a heart healthy snack, Dr. Dutta says to make sure they’re unsalted—especially if you have a history of high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends keeping sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams a day (and ideally under 1,500 milligrams a day). A typical 30 gram serving of salted nuts has 95 milligrams of sodium—quite a lot. Dr. Bradley Serwer, MD, FACC, the chief medical officer at CardioSolution, says that in addition to being mindful of sodium, it’s also important to be aware that some nuts are made with unhealthy oils, as is the case with most roasted nuts. For this reason, it’s important to check the ingredients list and be on the lookout for ingredients such as oils or sugar.
But when it comes to raw, unsalted nuts, Dr. Serwer says to go…nuts! “Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans can all be very beneficial,” he says, adding that this is because they’re a good source of fiber, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E. Unsaturated fats have been shown to be good for cardiovascular health, helping to lower LDL cholesterol. It’s saturated fats (found in foods like fatty cuts of meat, butter, and baked goods) that negatively impact heart health.
What Is the Best Nut for Heart Health?
There’s one nut that’s especially great for heart health: walnuts. “Walnuts are the healthiest for the heart because they are rich in protein and antioxidants while [being high in] omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol,” says Dr. Fahmi Farah, MD, a board-certified invasive cardiologist and director of Bentley Heart in Fort Worth, Texas.
Scientific studies show that eating walnuts regularly lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly because of exactly what Dr. Farah explained: The omega-3s in walnuts help lower LDL cholesterol. Additionally, the antioxidants in walnuts are beneficial for cardiovascular health because they help prevent inflammation, which can cause heart disease and other health problems.
As with most other nuts, walnuts are super versatile, easy to incorporate into meals or snacks. “For example you can use walnuts in your salad, as a crust for fish or chicken, and even in your dessert,” Dr. Farah says.
Walnuts are also the best nut for brain health. The same nutrients that are good for your ticker are good for your brain. “This is because heart and vascular health allow the body to more easily supply the brain with the nutrients and oxygen that it needs to thrive,” Dr. Raphael Wald, PsyD, a neurologist with Baptist Health Marcus Neuroscience Institute, previously told Parade, about the connection between heart health and brain health.
Whether you choose to snack on walnuts or another nut, Dr. Serwer says that it’s important to be mindful of the serving size. “Nuts are calorie dense and so I recommend keeping small portion size servings ready to go and avoiding keeping a large container of nuts near the couch in order to avoid overeating,” he says. He explains that this is important because overeating can lead to weight gain, which negatively impacts heart health.
So there you have it. Not only do you now know that nuts are a heart-healthy snack (as long as they’re raw and unsalted), you know which nut is the absolute best for cardiovascular health. Now comes the fun part: Finding new ways to incorporate them into your diet. One idea? Using them as taco “meat”!