If you live with type 2 diabetes, eating nuts five days a week may be just as critical for your long-term well-being as regular exercise and checking your blood sugar.
That’s according to a recent study, which was published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation Research journal.
In it, researchers concluded that when eating 5 servings of nuts per week, patients with type 2 diabetes had a 17 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, people with type 2 diabetes who consumed nuts regularly had a 34 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, and a 31 percent reduced risk of premature death overall.
Eating nuts fewer than five times per week still offers benefits, the study authors explained, but less so compared to those who eat nuts nearly daily.
The study also pinpointed that tree nuts, in particular, offered the most benefits to your heart. Common tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, chestnuts, and filberts.
It’s important to remember that peanuts are not a nut but a legume. While peanuts can be part of a wholesome diet, they have not proven to offer the notable health benefits of a tree nut.
Why your heart loves nuts
The science behind a tree nut’s ability to improve your heart health is actually the result of their positive impact on your blood pressure, your body’s ability to metabolize dietary fat, your blood sugar levels, your body’s overall inflammation levels, and the well-being of your blood vessels.
Reducing your risk of these health issues helps reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by five risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and having a stroke.
The five risk factors include:
- increased blood pressure (greater than 130/85 mm Hg)
- high blood sugar levels (insulin resistance)
- excess fat around the waist
- high triglyceride levels
- low levels of good cholesterol, or HDL
For patients already living with type 2 diabetes, the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke is high. Taking steps to reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome means reducing your risk of these additional conditions.
Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed based on the combined five assessments of your waist circumference, fasting blood triglycerides, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and fasting blood sugar levels.
If your doctor is prescribing regular exercise, quitting smoking, and weight loss, then a daily serving of tree nuts should help, too.
“Tree nuts have shown consistently in research to reduce the inflammation markers for heart disease and diabetes, and they help to increase high-density lipoproteins that protect your heart,” Elisabeth Almekinder, RN, BA, CDE, a freelancer writer who specializes in diabetes and other health issues, told Healthline.
High-density lipoproteins are a combination of cholesterol, triglycerides, and proteins, explained Almekinder, also a member of The Diabetes Council.
Lipoproteins play a critical role in the absorption and transportation of dietary fats in your small intestine. They also transport beneficial cholesterol and triglycerides from your liver to other parts of your body.
Despite the health concerns surrounding cholesterol and triglycerides, your body does need certain amounts of both in order to produce certain hormones and bile in the liver. Cholesterol is also a key building block for basic human tissue such as skin and cartilage.
Nuts are a gold mine when it comes to healthy fats.
The dietary fat in nuts is primarily monounsaturated, which is known for its ability to help lower cholesterol and protect your heart, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Benefits abound, but don’t go nuts
“Like everything in moderation, so it is with nuts,” reminds Almekinder.
Nuts are one of the most nutrient-dense foods, offering more than 200 calories, 15 grams of fat, and a variety of vitamins and minerals in a mere quarter-cup serving. If you’re stranded on an island and all you have to eat is a bag of pistachios, this is a good thing.
However, if you’re sitting down with a bag of pistachios to watch your favorite TV show, it’s easy to consume 1,000 calories and more than 100 grams of fat without realizing it.
“For people with diabetes, nuts are low in carbohydrates, and high in good fats, which raise blood sugars slowly,” explained Almekinder. “It’s a matter of watching the amount you eat, and thinking of nuts as a condiment instead of a ‘sit down and eat the whole bag’ type of endeavor.”
To easily include nuts in your daily diet, Almekinder recommends sprinkling pine nuts on your salad, stirring sliced almonds into yogurt, adding cashews or walnuts to your main dishes at dinner, or simply snacking on a reasonable serving of pistachios.
Just don’t forget that measuring your portions is a big part of including nuts in your regular diet.
“Nuts are great,” added Almekinder, “but much more than a handful is not.”
Ginger Vieira is an expert patient living with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and fibromyalgia. Find her diabetes books on Amazon and her articles on Diabetes Strong. Connect with her on Twitter and YouTube.