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When it comes to a heart healthy diet, one of the tastier recommended snacks is nuts. For the nut lovers among us who like a little extra crunch in our diet, this is good news. Nuts are considered a heart healthy snack and The American Heart Association recommends consuming nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, or sunflower seeds) at least four times a week.
Nuts are filled with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These two fats are “good” fats and it’s believed that they assist in lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels. High LDL cholesterol is a known risk factor for the development of heart disease. Consuming monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. Some nuts, such as walnuts, are also high in antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C, reduce free radical damage. Adding antioxidants to your diet may reduce the damaged caused by high levels of LDL cholesterol.
When I think “heart healthy nuts,” I automatically think almonds and walnuts. Perhaps that is because of education. It’s more likely, however, to simply be the result of the label on the Planters Heart Healthy Nuts container! While almonds and walnuts are certainly great contenders, there just may be a new heart healthy nut on the table - the pecan.
According to researchers from Loma Linda University, pecans are rich in antioxidants. Pecans contain several forms of vitamin E (an antioxidant), including gamma-tocopherols. As a part of the study, participants were fed meals of either whole pecans, pecans blended with water, or a “control” meal. The Step I diet promoted by the American Heart Association was used as the control diet.
Blood and urine samples were tested before meals and at intervals over a 24-hour period afterward to track the levels of the antioxidant vitamin E gamma-tocopherol levels. Two hours after the pecan meals, antioxidant levels increased between 10-12 percent and 50 percent after eight hours.