Are you looking for a snack between mealtimes or postworkout? You are not alone, as it is something we all do. Sometimes the only available snacks you can get are those you can find at the gas station or something packaged and tasty from the vending machine. However, everything we eat can positively affect our gut health and risk of heart disease. It is in utmost importance that we be more strategic about our snacking.
Journal of Nutrition published new research that says swapping out your sweet or salty afternoon pick-me-up for walnuts can have some significant heart health benefits.
Researchers looked at 42 overweight or obese participants who were between the ages of 30 and 65. Prior to the start of the study, everyone was placed on an average American diet (where 12 percent of daily calories came from saturated fat) for 2 weeks. They then switched to a lower saturated fat diet (where 7 percent of daily calories came from saturated fat) and incorporated walnuts. In place of snacks like crackers or chips, all participants were munching on two handfuls of walnuts daily for 6 weeks. Researchers saw lower cholesterol levels and gut bacteria that lower their risk of heart disease. It is important to note that one ounce of walnuts is about one handful.
According to study authors, the result is likely due to eating whole walnuts daily, which lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. While the researchers noted that this study showed correlation and not causation, previous research also found adding walnuts to a diet of a person can help lower blood pressure, especially when they’re replacing high saturated fat foods.
So, how gut health affects the risk of heart disease? It may be partly because walnuts contain fiber, which can favorably affect gut bacteria. Furthermore, the omega-3s and unsaturated fats in walnut can positively contribute to gut microbiomes, which may help in lowering blood pressure, resulting in a lower risk for heart disease, according to the study authors.
Study authors said that swapping out unhealthy snacks for a servicing of walnuts or other nuts will have significant health benefits and is more natural than doing a radical exercise or diet overhaul.
The study authors explained that it’s not just people at risk for heart disease as nuts are recommended in several heart-healthy diets, including the Mediterranean diet. It’s an excellent method to encourage healthy people to stay healthy, the study said.
In full disclosure, The California Walnut Commission supported this one study. However, there has been much independent research on all the heart-healthy components of nuts, such as fiber, unsaturated fats, omega-3s. Previous research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that adding nuts to your diet can help prevent the risk of chronic disease and promotes healthy aging. Study authors explained that blood pressure and cholesterol levels increase as you age even if you are fit in your20s or 30s, which is one of the reasons eating a heart-healthy diet is essential regardless of your age or activity level.
The bottom line: choosing nuts in your snacks is something you can do now to maintain health, rather than waiting until later in life. Researchers pointed out that while they looked at walnuts specifically, adding a variety of nuts can help you keep up this healthy diet habit to prevent from being bored of eating just walnuts. Study authors said that it is much harder to reverse disease once it comes about, so prevention is key.