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The news about nuts is exciting and growing! Multiple studies have shown that diets containing nuts significantly reduce the blood levels of total cholesterol and “bad” (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Walnuts have been frequently investigated and have a reputation as having the greatest effect on decreasing coronary heart disease. Most nuts contain high levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, whereas walnuts are high in poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Among the category of poly-unsaturated fatty acids found in walnuts
are essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are classified as essential because the body cannot produce them. They must be supplied from food.

The body needs fatty acids for several purposes. By helping to move oxygen through the bloodstream to all parts of the body, fatty acids help develop strong cell membranes and are necessary for strong organs and tissue. They help to clean the cholesterol buildup in arteries. Fatty acids also play an important role in heart cells, and are essential for the pumping action and the electrical activities of the heart.

The human body can produce all but two of the fatty acids it needs—linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Both of these essential fatty acids are found in walnuts.

However, the important one for improved health is ALA. Among the variety of nuts, walnuts contain the highest amount of alpha-linolenic acid.

In addition to decreasing the blood levels of LDL, cholesterol, ALA essential fatty acids also strengthen the layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels. The earliest event in developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is when the interior lining of the blood vessels is damaged and cannot function normally.

Healthier Blood Pressure

Walnut diets have demonstrated a significant improvement in the ability of arteries to react healthfully. Their ability to dilate and constrict becomes more effective. This can result in healthier blood pressure. The ALA found in walnuts also protects against heart disease by helping to prevent the serious irregular heart beats that can result in death.

Studies have shown that after eating a fatty meal, the ability of the blood vessels to function normally is damaged. Along with this temporary damage in the lining of the arteries, there is also blood vessel inflammation. This environment of inflammation within the lining of the blood vessels changes the behavior of “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. It becomes sticky, increasing the incidence of further damage to the interior lining of the blood vessels. This increases the occurrence of plaques forming within the arterial vessel walls.

Why have we spent time explaining this damaging process? The good news is that studies have demonstrated eating walnuts together with a fatty meal can reverse the post-meal damage to the interior lining of the blood vessels associated with a fatty meal. This does not mean that you can consistantly eat a high-fat diet plus walnuts and expect to avoid health damage. However, adding walnuts to a fatty meal seems to reduce the post-meal damage to blood vessel walls.

Go ahead—include walnuts in your salads, sprinkle them on breakfast cereal, add them to entrees, and maybe even top your occasional ice cream treat with some walnuts.

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By Dynnette Hart and Kenneth Hart. Reprinted with permission from Pacific Union Recorder, April 2008. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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