Are Seeds "Good" or "Bad" For Cholesterol Levels?

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro
  • All seeds make an extremely nutritious snack, but you may be wondering if they are good for your cholesterol levels, considering their high fat content.

     

    Research tells us, however, that seeds do more than just keep hunger at bay, they can also help to maintain lower cholesterol levels, so they are a very heart healthy snack option.

     

    Let's take a closer look at some of the evidence...

     

    Phytosterols For Cholesterol Lowering

    Phytosterols are compounds found in plants which have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol. When present in your diet in sufficient amounts, they are thought to help with lowering blood cholesterol levels, as well as enhancing the immune response.

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    These phytosterols are actually extracted and added to processed foods, such as spreads, as an aid in cholesterol-lowering.

     

    However, take my advice and skip these imitation products, and instead go straight for the real deal… seeds (and nuts) the way they were intended to be eaten. This way you'll be sure you are getting the phytosterols as well as the beneficial fiber, minerals and healthy fats.

     

    Highest Phytosterols Content

    A study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, discussed the amounts of phytosterols present in nuts and seeds commonly eaten in the US. Try to add a variety of these nuts and seeds into your diet on a regular basis:

    • Sesame seeds (400 mg/100 g) 
    • Sunflower seeds (289 mg/100 g)
    • Pistachio nuts  (270 mg/100 g) 
    • Pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g)
    • English walnuts  (113 mg/100 g)
    • Brazil nuts (95 mg/100 g)

    Flaxseed Versus Statins

    Another study found that flaxseeds provide comparable cholesterol-lowering benefits to that of statin drugs.

     

    The study looked at 40 patients with high cholesterol levels (greater than 240 mg/dL). They compared a daily consumption of 20 grams of ground flaxseed with the effects on cholesterol levels when taking a statin drug. 

     

    After 60 days, significant reductions were seen in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol in both of the groups. In fact, those receiving the flaxseeds did just as well health-wise as those given statin drugs — I certainly know which I'd prefer to be taking!


    Phytosterols are not the only food component involved in lowering cholesterol. This is why a well-rounded, balanced diet, in combination with a consistent and frequent exercise program, is so very important for a healthy heart.

     

    Nuts and Heart Health

    Nuts are also beneficial in helping to reduce blood cholesterol levels. 

     

    Try to keep your diet varied by adding one handful, or 1 1/2 ounces, of nuts or seeds per day. Nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, and peanuts are great choices for helping to keep your heart healthy.

     

    Poorer choices are those which have been salted or coated with oil or sugar. Instead, go for whole, raw nuts in their natural form.

     

    To avoid weight gain when adding seeds and nuts to your diet you need to be substituting them into your diet in place of other high calorie snacks (i.e. cake and cookies), rather than simply eating them on top of whatever foods you normally consume.

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    Do you eat seeds and nuts regularly?

     

    Melanie Thomassian, registered dietitian, online health coach, and author of Dietriffic.com, cuts through the misconceptions about diet and fitness to help you transform your health for life. Visit her website to learn more, or check out her new healthy eating guide.

Published On: March 03, 2011