Study Finds Eating Nuts May Sharply Lower CholesterolDANIEL Q. HANEY , Associated Press
Mar. 4, 1993 1:12 AM ET
BOSTON (AP) _ Forget oat bran or garlic. The new wonder food may be walnuts.
Unlikely as it may sound, a study released today suggests that nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, lower cholesterol.
A team at Loma Linda University in Southern California has come up with two independent lines of evidence.
First they surveyed the eating habits of 31,208 people. To their surprise, they found that those who ate various nuts at least five times a week had only half the risk of dying of a heart attack of those who had nuts less than once a week.
Intrigued, they set up an experiment. Eighteen healthy men were assigned to eat two diets for one month each: a standard low-cholesterol regimen and a nutritionally similar diet in which 20 percent of the calories came from walnuts, either as snacks or in baked goods, salads and cereals.
For someone who eats a typical 2,500 calories a day, that works out to about three-quarters of a cup of walnuts.
On the no-nuts diet, the volunteers' cholesterol levels fell 6 percent. On the walnut diet, their cholesterol declined an additional 12 percent. Everyone's cholesterol dropped while eating nuts, and the average decrease was 22 points, from 182 to 160.
''Including walnuts in the everyday diet may be an easy way to lower the risk of heat disease by improving the cholesterol profile,'' said Dr. Joan Sabate, who presented the findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. William Castelli, director of the Framingham Heart Study, said in an interview: ''I think they are really onto something. It looks like folks on nuts will do better than everyone else.''
Why, though, is unclear.
The total amount of fat in both diets was the same, but its composition differed. Walnuts are a good source of polyunsaturates. While eating walnuts, people's consumption of polyunsaturated fat rose 90 percent, but their intake of dangerous saturated fat dropped 40 percent.
The researchers said this change in fat could account for less than half of the drop in cholesterol.
Dr. Frank Sacks of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said he thought it probably explained all of it. ''If you go out and eat nuts, you are likely to do your cholesterol some good, because you replace some less-good foods,'' he said.