Nuts for Heart Health: Will They Make You Fat?
Debra sat in my office, anxious over what I was going to advise about her cholesterol values.
This 49-year old woman had been told by two doctors that she had no choice but to take a statin drug to reduce her LDL cholesterol of 164 mg/dl.
But I suggested to this peri-menopausal woman that we should first try a number of nutritional strategies to reduce LDL cholesterol. "I'd suggest that you add an unlimited quantity of raw nuts to your diet. In particular, add raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios, and eat them nearly every day."
"Oh, I don't think so. I don't want to get fat!" Debra countered.
Is that true? Do nuts make you fat?
Yes, it is. But it's only true when nuts are eaten as party mixes, beer nuts, mixed nuts roasted in oils (often hydrogenated), honey roasted, etc. In other words, it's not the nuts themselves. It's what the manufacturer does to the nut that distorts its health benefits.
Take raw almonds. A quarter-cup or more per day reduces LDL cholesterol around 20 mg/dl, reduces blood sugar, reduces blood pressure over a long period, and is satisfying, since the healthy oils digest slowly.
But take honey roasted almonds made with sugar (lots of it), honey, salt, and often some unhealthy oil. Voilá! Raw almonds have been transformed into an unhealthy food that increases blood sugar and triggers increased triglycerides, low HDL, and small LDL particles. And if the added oil is hydrogenated (providing trans fatty acids), LDL cholesterol goes higher, HDL cholesterol drops, and cancer risk escalates. Perhaps worst of all, sweetened snacks like honey roasted almonds also tend to increase appetite - you just can't have two.
I've witnessed this first-hand many times: Someone adds healthy raw nuts to their diet and LDL cholesterol plummets, appetite is satisfied, blood sugar improves. Adding plentiful raw nuts helps lose weight, probably due to nuts' great potential for triggering satiety because of its healthy oil and fiber content.
But turn nuts into honey roasted, mixed in hydrogenated oil and salted, party mixes with added raisins, dried cranberries (which are usually soaked in sugar syrup and high-fructose corn syrup), dried pineapples, etc. and now they are converted into an unhealthy food that makes you fat.
So it's not nuts per se that make us fat. It's what and how nuts are distorted that can make us fat.
My advice: Look for raw nuts. Although they lack the bright, eye-catching packaging, and may even be sold in the bulk section of the grocery store, that's what you're looking for.