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Almonds: Get Heart Healthy

Don't be afraid to go nuts over nuts; in addition to supplying fiber and protein, they can help keep your heart healthy.

Here's a really nutty idea for preventing heart disease: Eat more almonds. While it's true that almonds are high in fat, it's important to remember that they're high in monounsaturated fats, the kind that protect the heart.

Data from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study shows that women who consumed more than five ounces of nuts a week lowered their risk of heart disease by 35%, compared with women who rarely ate nuts. And another study done at Harvard's School of Public Health found that eating nuts at least twice a week reduced the risk of having a second heart attack by 25% among 4,000 people.

To get more almonds in your diet, you might try drinking them. All natural almond milk is a dairy alternative that's high in protein, fortified with vitamins A, D and E, a good source of calcium and 100% lactose and cholesterol free. Found in health food stores, it can be used for cooking and lactose intolerance, and it's lower in calories than other nondairy drinks.

Almonds contain significant stores of antioxidants (35% of the daily recommended value for vitamin E), as well as fiber, arginine—a protein that keeps arteries elastic—and phytochemicals known as plant sterols, which help lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels while maintaining beneficial HDL levels. A three-month study done at Loma Linda University and presented at the Experimental Biology 2000 conference found that when participants added just two ounces of almonds a day to their already low-saturated fat and cholesterol diet, their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol dropped even lower.

"It's all the components working together," explains Gene Spiller, Ph.D., director of the Health Research and Studies Center in Los Altos, California. "It's the fiber, the unsaturated fats, the arginine, the plant sterols and other phytochemicals. They all work together to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease."

Though high in calories, the good news is that almonds can be part of a heart-healthy weight-loss plan if eaten in moderation. A Harvard study found that when almonds—along with other nuts and olive oil, also good sources of monounsaturated fat—were added to a low-fat diet, participants lost as much weight as those who were on a low-calorie, low-fat diet. And six months later, dieters eating nuts and olive oil had maintained their weight, while those on the low-calorie, low-fat diet were putting the pounds back on. Researchers believe that the nuts' varied flavors make it easier for people to stick to their diets—good news for your taste buds, body and self-confidence.