Want to reverse a range of risk factors for heart disease? Start eating a handful of nuts a day for a year and include a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish . Adding nuts worked better than more olive oil in an average Mediterranean diet, according to Spanish researchers. Both activities cut the heart risks known as metabolic syndrome in more people than using a low-fat diet.
Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that the most surprising finding is that they found significant metabolic advantages in the lack of calorie reduction or weight loss.
In the study, which appeared Monday, December 8, 2008 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the people who were asked to eat about three whole walnuts, seven or eight whole hazelnuts and seven or eight whole almonds showed the most improvement in their health. Although they didn’t lose weight overall, most were successful in reducing belly fat as well as their cholesterol and blood pressure.
Dr. Manson does caution that adding nuts to a typical Western diet that has too much junk food and calories, could cause weight gain and increase health risks. She adds that using nuts instead of snacks such as chips or crackers is a smart change in one’s diet.
According to the Heart Association, 50 million Americans have metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of health risks like obesity and high blood pressure. Following a diet that is easy and satisfying could mean major health improvements for many Americans. People feel full when eating nuts and they also increase the body’s ability to burn fat, according to Dr. Jordi Salas-Salvado, the lead author of the University of Rovira i Virgili in Reus, Spain. Sals-Salvado said in an email that “nuts could have an effect on metabolic syndrome by multiple mechanisms.” Nuts have many anti-inflammatory substances such as fiber and antioxidants such as vitamin E. Also, they are high in unsaturated fat, which is a healthier fat which can lower blood triglycerides and increase good cholesterol.
In the study, more than 1,200 Spainards, ranging from age 55 to 80, were randomly assigned one of three diets for a year. Although some of the participants had risk factors such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and abdominal obesity, none had no previous history of heart disease.
In the beginning, 751 people had metabolic syndrome, which is about 61 percent. These people were distributed evenly among the three study groups.
Basic advice about reducing all fat in their diets was given to the low-fat group. The second group ate a Mediterranean diet that was rich in nuts. The third group ate a Mediterranean diet and had to consume more than four tablespoons of olive oil a day.
A year later, all three groups had less people with metabolic syndrome, but the group that ate more nuts had the most improvement, with 52 percent having heart risk factors as compared with the previous 61 percent. The olive oil group had 57 percent with the syndrome after the study, and astonishingly, there was no significant difference in the syndrome of the low-fat group after a year.
The Spanish Ministry of Health and the government of Valencia, Spain founded the study. The publication disclosed that lead author Salas-Salvado and another co-author are unpaid advisers to nut industry groups. Salvado said that all their research “has been conducted under standard ethical and scientific rules” and that peer-review journal editors determined the study findings were not influenced by ties with any industry.