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Eating Nuts for Your Heart Health

The Spread

August 18, 2022

You’re probably already familiar with how many exceptional benefits nuts have. Nuts are crucial ingredients in any good fitness regimen. They also have many benefits regarding both physical and mental health. But, can a little nut really take on the role of protector of a vital organ as important as the heart? There are quite a few excellent benefits of eating nuts for your heart health, but let's start from the beginning.

Atherosclerosis and high blood pressure

The cardiovascular system is a vital unity of a pumping heart and vascular vessels. Changes in one part of it affect the whole system in one way or another. Over time, the cardiovascular system undergoes a variety of challenges and weakens. As a result, heart diseases are the number one cause of death globally. The most common cardiovascular disease (that causes other malfunctions as well) is high blood pressure. Often, we don't know what causes it. However, we know that high pressure damages blood vessels over time and increases the chance of atherosclerotic plaque building up. Atherosclerosis, in return, makes the lumen of the vessel smaller and increases the blood pressure even more. All of that leads the whole system into a vicious circle that is hard to escape.

 

A person measuring pressure.

Hypertension is one of the biggest health issues in first-world countries.

 

The health of the coronary arteries

Atherosclerosis happens in every vessel in the organism. However, it's the most dangerous when it happens in one of the coronary arteries. Coronary arteries are the vessels that supply the heart muscle with blood during the diastole. In other words, they feed the heart with oxygen and energy when it relaxes, so it can have the strength to do its job. When atherosclerosis happens in one of the arteries that supply the heart, it leads to stable or unstable angina, depending on how occlusive the plaque has become. Unfortunately, there are often times when the plaque gets damaged,' glues' thrombocytes to it, and makes a thrombus that completely shuts down the blood flow beyond the plaque. The heart muscle supplied with it undergoes hypoxia, and acute myocardial infarct happens. Necrosis of tissue during it can lead to many more severe complications, including arrhythmias that lead to ventricular fibrillation.

How can nuts help?

Nuts are home to an essential and helpful molecule called arginine. Arginine is a vital amino acid, meaning it can not be synthesized in our body, and we need to take it via food (that's why it's so important to read nutrition labels on products). This little but essential molecule serves as a base for synthesizing another important molecule called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has a variety of crucial roles in cell and tissue proper function. It can be neurotransmitter and vasodilator. Vasodilatation is what is important to us in this story. When the muscles in the arteries and veins' walls relax, the vessel's lumen becomes dilated. Once the whole vessel becomes wider, the blood will have more space to move, and the blood pressure will drop. 

Many important roles

Therefore, eating more of these superfoods rich in arginine is essential for the prevention of one of the most common cardiovascular diseases - aka high blood pressure. But that's not all. Nuts are also rich in:

  • potassium - a vital electrolyte that dictates action potential and electrical activity of the heart
  • folate - crucial for division and regeneration of the cells
  • vitamin E - is an important molecule that battles oxidative stress that causes atherosclerosis

 

A bowl of almonds.

Almonds contain a lot of vitamin E, which ‘cleans' your endothelial cells of free radicals that damage them and lead to atherosclerosis.

Stress and anxiety

Feelings of stress and anxiety start in the brain, but they cause damage all around the organism, especially in the cardiovascular system. Anxious states and chronic stress come hand in hand with high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. That's why it's essential to use the power of nuts to battle the side effects with a bit of help from arginine and vitamin E. Also, eating nuts increases serotonin and dopamine release, which are hormones of satisfaction and happiness. It's no wonder then that pro movers often suggest eating nuts as one of the tips for reducing anxiety during stressful times, like moving and starting a new life.

There is one catch when eating nuts for your heart health

As you see, ingesting all the good ingredients from nuts is great for your heart - at least on paper. In reality, unfortunately, people use the benefits of nuts as an excuse to have an extra snack or curb their late-night cravings by adding nuts to an unhealthy snack without feeling guilty. If you decide to eat a lot of junk food, no nut in this world can undo the side effects of that decision - quite the contrary. If you take a lot of nuts on top of all those meals, coke, and snacks - it will only add to your calorie count. That way, you'll only gain weight over time which will only put more pressure on your cardiovascular system and your heart. The key here is substitution, not addition. Or, if you're going to add nuts to your meals, make sure you're adding them to healthy ones, not unhealthy ones. 

How to do it right?

Instead of making additional nuts snacks, you can make them a part of your main meals of the day. For example, a good practice is to find the nuts you like and experiment with salads they can go well with. Also, you can try some healthy combinations of nut butter (we lean towards mixing them in your smoothie rather than making PBJs or eating Reese's). The possibilities are endless. With a little imagination, you can incorporate nuts into your daily eating routine and have a truly diverse and healthy home menu.

 

 An example of eating nuts for your heart health.

Your favorite salad or veggie bowl can become even healthier with a healthy amount of nuts in it.

 

Final thoughts

Eating nuts for your heart health is one of the best decisions you can make to help your cardiovascular system. Since they can help with the reduction of risk factors for high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, incorporating them into your diet can significantly help you protect your heart. Of course, balance is everything, and you need to watch out for overdoing this healthy habit. If you do everything right, your heart will be able to pump lively and happily through many years and adventures to come.