The best nuts to lower cholesterol: Research and nutrition

Nuts are a kind of fruit with a hard outer shell, with the exception of peanuts, which are legumes. Nuts are a popular food worldwide, and there is evidence that they may benefit a person’s health.

A variety of nuts may lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, while raising high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. However, not all nuts have the same effect on a person’s cholesterol levels.

This article discusses cholesterol and how it affects a person’s health. It also explores the effects that several types of nuts have on cholesterol levels and their nutritional content. Finally, it answers some common questions about some of the most suitable nuts for lowering cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a fatty molecule that plays a number of vital roles within the body. For example, the substance is essential to the structural integrity of cell membranes and their fluidity. Cell membrane fluidity refers to how proteins and lipids, or fats, move within the cell membrane.

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. A person with higher LDL cholesterol levels may be at risk of developing:

Conversely, someone with higher HDL levels may be at a decreased risk of developing these conditions.

According to a 2016 review, peanuts are rich in chemicals called phytosterols. These chemicals may stop the body from absorbing as much cholesterol, as they are similar in structure to cholesterol and compete with it in absorption.

The review’s authors noted that eating peanuts can lower a person’s total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels without making significant changes to their HDL cholesterol levels.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides the following nutritional data for 100 grams (g) of raw peanuts:

A 2018 meta-analysis stated that walnuts are also high in phytosterols, which people may also call plant sterols.

After reviewing 26 studies, the authors concluded that a person may lower LDL cholesterol levels by eating walnuts. However, this effect was more pronounced when walnuts contributed between 10% and 25% of a person’s daily energy intake. There was less of an effect when that figure was less than 10%.

The USDA supplies the following nutritional data for 100 g of unroasted walnuts:

According to a 2017 study, incorporating cashew nuts into a typical American diet can help a person decrease their total and LDL cholesterol levels.

However, the researchers of a 2020 meta-analysis investigated the effects of cashews on cholesterol levels. They found that cashew consumption had no significant effect on total, LDL, or HDL cholesterol.

Therefore, further research into cashews and cholesterol may be necessary.

The USDA provides the following nutritional data for 100 g of raw cashew nuts.

The authors of a 2018 review noted that supplementing the diet with almonds can lower LDL cholesterol while maintaining or even increasing HDL cholesterol.

The authors suggested that people may lower their risk of developing dyslipidemia — blood lipid levels that are too high or low — by eating 45 g of almonds daily. Dyslipidemia is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The USDA supplies the following nutritional data for 100 g of unsalted dry roasted almonds.

The authors of a 2016 review and meta-analysis compared the results of nine studies on hazelnuts and cholesterol. They found people who incorporated hazelnuts into their diet had lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol, with no effect on their HDL cholesterol.

The study authors hypothesized that the high dietary fiber content of hazelnuts might contribute to this effect. According to the USDA, 100 g of unroasted hazelnuts contain 9.7 g of fiber.

The USDA provides the following nutritional data for 100 g of unroasted hazelnuts.

There is limited recent research into the effects of macadamia nuts on cholesterol.

However, a small 2003 study indicated that macadamia nut consumption could lower LDL levels by around 5.3% while increasing HDL levels by 7.9% among men with elevated cholesterol levels.

The USDA supplies the following nutritional data for 100 g of raw macadamia nuts.

A small 2013 study indicated that a single Brazil nut serving of 20–50 g lowered LDL cholesterol levels and raised HDL cholesterol levels after 9 hours in 10 healthy study participants.

Conversely, the authors of a 2022 meta-analysis reported no significant changes in cholesterol levels after Brazil nut consumption. Therefore, further research into Brazil nuts and cholesterol may be necessary.

The USDA provides the following nutritional data for 100 g of dried, unblanched Brazil nuts.

A 2018 study indicated that people may lower their LDL cholesterol levels by consuming a high pecan diet. However, the authors concluded that further research is necessary.

The USDA supplies the following nutritional data for 100 g of unsalted dry roasted pecans.

A 2016 review investigated the results of nine different studies into the relationship between blood cholesterol and pistachio nut consumption. In six of those studies, LDL cholesterol levels dropped while HDL cholesterol levels rose in people who replaced part of their usual diet with pistachio nuts.

The USDA provides the following nutritional data for 100 g of raw pistachios.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about nuts to lower cholesterol.

Can eating too many nuts raise cholesterol?

Yes, it is possible that eating nuts in excess may increase LDL cholesterol levels due to their saturated fat content. Eating nuts in excess may also exceed a person’s daily calorie needs, leading to increased LDL cholesterol levels.

However, saturated fat content varies between different types of nuts, and eating certain nuts in moderation as part of a balanced diet may increase HDL cholesterol levels.

Are cashews bad for cholesterol?

Research indicates that cashew nuts may improve or have little effect on a person’s cholesterol levels. However, an individual should eat cashews in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Do pistachios lower cholesterol?

Yes, pistachios may reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. They may also increase levels of HDL cholesterol.

If a person has excess LDL cholesterol and insufficient HDL cholesterol, they may develop serious health conditions later in life.

However, people may improve their cholesterol levels by adding certain types of nuts to a balanced diet. A healthcare professional can offer further advice and help an individual manage their diet to reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

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