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A look at the 'nuts can lower cholesterol' claim

May 10, 2010 |  7:04 pm

AlmondsMuch is being made of a study published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine establishing the positive effects nuts can have on blood cholesterol. The researchers, from Loma Linda University, concluded:

"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 CHD [coronary heart disease] risk."

This particular study pointed out that people with so-called bad cholesterol and those with a lower body-mass index are among those more likely to benefit by adding some nutty crunch to their diet.  The analysis also found a "dose" response, i.e. "eat more nuts." Here's the nut study abstract.

But the research shouldn't merit gape-mouthed astonishment; the findings are drawn from 25 earlier nut-consumption studies, and most people have probably read a headline or two over the years touting a particular type of nuts. Further, the Food and Drug Administration in 2003 began allowing companies to vaguely brag about the health benefits of some nuts and peanuts (yes, yes, a legume). Here's a Los Angeles Times story on those qualified health claims.

Nor should the research elicit a snort of dismissal, partially sponsored though it was by the International Tree Nut Council.
The analysis included well-designed studies (not simply those that amount to: "Hey, X and Y seem to be occurring at the same time, therefore there must be a connection!"). Further, there's nutritional science to back up the findings. And that's the interesting part -- just how those high-calorie, joy-bringing delights actually do good.

Here's what the Mayo Clinic has to say about nuts and heart health. The role of unsaturated fats, omega-3s, l-arginine, fiber, vitamin E and sterols are all explained.

And WebMD weighs in with this analysis of nuts' nutritional benefits and how to include them as part of a healthful diet. (Be forewarned: The report takes a dim view of honey-roasted and chocolate-covered versions. Pity.) 

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: For best results, skip the chocolate coating.

Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times