How Eating Nuts Can Lower Heart Disease Risk for People with Diabetes

by Patrick T. Bering, MD, Cardiologist, MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute
July 23, 2019

Regular exercise and a good night’s sleep are two well-known ways to help prevent heart disease. However, eating tree nuts may also lead to lower heart disease risk, particularly for people with diabetes, according to a 2019 study.

The study found that people with diabetes who ate at least five small servings of tree nuts a week were 17 percent less likely to develop heart disease. Researchers followed patients from a younger age in their life and followed up with them over time to determine whether they developed heart disease.

Peanuts are the most popular “nuts” in grocery stores, but they are actually legumes that grow underground. Common tree nuts include:

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

The benefit eating tree nuts—which are a key component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet—has for the heart adds to our understanding of what constitutes a heart-healthy diet, especially for individuals who have diabetes. Let’s discuss why tree nuts are good for us, ways to incorporate them into our diets, and other diet tips people with diabetes should consider.

LISTEN: Dr. Bering discusses the benefits of eating tree nuts in the Medical Intel podcast.

Why are Tree Nuts Good for Heart Health?

Tree nuts provide us with a lot of bang for our buck when we consume them, as they’re packed with high-quality nutrients including:

  • Fiber
  • Minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium
  • Phytochemicals
  • Unsaturated fats
  • Vitamins, such as vitamin E and folic acid

Vitamin E in particular has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is important for people with diabetes who can experience inflammation in the eyes, kidneys, and vasculature. Moreover, the anti-inflammatory effects, as well as unsaturated fat and potassium found in tree nuts, can help lower people’s high blood pressure.

Tree #nuts are filled with high-quality nutrients, such as #fiber, unsaturated fats, and #vitaminE. Learn how these contribute to a #healthyheart, particularly for people with #diabetes. https://bit.ly/2Z7t3VO via @MedStarWHC

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Tips for Adding Tree Nuts to Your Diet

The first step of incorporating more tree nuts into your diet is identifying which ones you think taste best, as you’ll be more likely to eat them regularly. Once you get into a habit or purchasing tree nuts, not only can you eat them by themselves, but you also can add them to a variety of meals. For example, you can add them to yogurt or salad, adding extra texture, crunch, and flavor. For more ideas, simply search online for healthy meal ideas that include tree nuts.

Tree nuts also are easy to transport. This makes them an ideal on-the-go snack and a much healthier option when compared to junk food or fast food.

As you eat tree nuts, make sure to monitor your portion sizes. One serving of nuts generally is about a third of a cup. Many of the portions we receive at restaurants or that we see in TV advertisements are much too large for what we should actually be eating. I recommend following portion size recommendations from the American Heart Association to learn what portions of different types of food should look like.

Furthermore, keep an eye on the salt content in the tree nuts you purchase. Some nuts come presalted or preflavored, and this can be an issue for people with diabetes who have problems with their kidneys or have had heart disease. Try purchasing nuts that are labeled as unsalted. If you don’t like the taste, opt for sodium-free salts.

What Other Diet Tips Should People with Diabetes Consider?

Aside from eating tree nuts, another great thing people can do in terms of their diet is to eat mostly fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and occasionally lean meat, and avoid eating ultra-processed foods, or foods that don’t look like anything that occurs in nature. These types of foods—ranging from drinks filled with artificial sweeteners to frozen foods with unrecognizable ingredient lists—often have negative health effects.

Drinking two or more artificially sweetened drinks a day, for example, is associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and early death in women over 50. The weight gain these types of foods can lead to also can contribute to obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes and high cholesterol.

Related Reading: Put Down the Diet Soda: How Artificial Sweeteners Increase Heart Disease and Stroke Risk

As tree nuts are associated with increased heart health, try incorporating them into your diet today. Experiment with which tree nuts taste best if you haven’t already, and think of ways you can add them to your favorite foods.

Have questions about your heart health? Request an appointment with a cardiologist below or call 855-546-1974.

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Category: Healthy Living, Medical Intel     Tags: diabetesheart diseasenutstree nuts