Try Walnuts for a Cardiovascular Tune-up
It’s hardly breaking news that millions of Americans are overweight, obese and/or sedentary. Folks packing extra pounds are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease—still the leading cause of death in America, and indeed much of the developed world—begins with changes to the delicate tissues lining the blood vessels. This specialized tissue—the endothelium—undergoes a gradual transformation when cholesterol and/or blood sugar levels are routinely high. Fatty plaques build up, and blood flow through the vessels becomes restricted, or even blocked.
This “endothelial dysfunction” is a hallmark of atherosclerosis. It marks the beginning of the end, in that, if left unchecked, it will almost certainly progress to advanced cardiovascular disease. That means heart attack, stroke, or death. But there’s plenty of opportunity to rein in this gradual process of vessel-lining degeneration. Diet is among the most important tools one can use to put the brakes on the runaway train that is endothelial dysfunction.
Now, researchers at Yale University have shown that simply snacking on English walnuts can significantly improve endothelial function, among overweight or obese people at risk for heart disease and/or diabetes. Surprisingly, although subjects ate what they wanted, the test subjects who ate 56 grams (about 2 ounces ) of walnuts each day did not gain any additional weight. Blood flow through their arteries improved significantly, too, and subjects’ blood pressure went down.
I think it’s interesting that none of the folks involved in this study changed anything else about their diet. They were free to eat whatever they wished, with the simple exception that some were instructed to eat walnuts each day. Investigators speculated that walnuts provided a dual benefit; helping satisfy hunger, which enabled test subjects to eat fewer less-nutritious foods, while also providing heart-healthy nutrients.
Katz DL, Davidhi A, Ma Y, Kavak Y, Bifulco L, Njike VY. Effects of walnuts on endothelial function in overweight adults with visceral obesity: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 Dec;31(6):415-23.