Published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013 , a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or olive oil reduced the incidence of a major cardiovascular event for high risk individuals by approximately 30% compared to a low fat diet group. However, if we drill down further, only stroke reached statistical significance and not heart attack and cardiovascular death from all causes.
Who was considered high risk in the study? Men aged 55-80 and woman 60--80 who had diabetes or at least 3 of the following: smoking, high blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol ('bad cholesterol'), low HDL ('good') cholesterol, overweight or obese, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.
The group that received the nuts (a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds) consumed about 30 grams per day, which is about a 1/4 cup or 1 oz. How about other nuts? Here's an article from Harvard Health about the benefits of peanuts and other nuts for heart health and here is the original research article. In this study, individuals who ate nuts 7 or more times per week, had a 20% lower death rate. However, this study was observational, and not direct cause and effect.
So, how do you include more nuts in your diet? Nuts are about 180 calories per quarter cup and while not low in calories, they are heart healthy, a good source of protein and healthy fibers and tend to be satisfying. Try eating about a 1/4 cup nuts per day or more for a snack and skipping the chips and other salty snacks more often. Try including sunflower seeds in salads, cashews in a stir fry, peanut butter with apples or bananas, pistachios or other nuts/seeds for snacks alone or any other option that you enjoy!
Yours in great health!
Kevin Grodnitzky, MS, RDN, CDE, LDN Registered Dietitian Nutritionist