Cholesterol-Reducing Superfoods for Winter

Cholesterol-Reducing Superfoods for Winter

In This Article

Nature’s Heart-Healthy Harvest is Full of Nuts, Seeds, and Good Fats

Every winter, nature provides a high-fat harvest, most commonly followed by our neighborhood squirrels who gorge on nuts and seeds.

In study after study, we see how good plant-based fats help to lower cholesterol and reduce deposits of dangerous fat around our organs. Science shows us that good fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease by removing bad fats from the body.

Don’t think this applies to you? High cholesterol has become so common that in one study, published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal, of 708 “healthy” adults from ages 63 to 79, 50 percent had high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

In nature, the harvest of good fats, like the ones generally found in nuts and seeds, is not only designed to help us store reserve fuel as insulation in the winter, but it also calms vata, or the nervous system.

Winter-harvested fats are also nature’s way of removing unwanted toxic fats from around our organs and the cardiovascular system.

Pecans, walnuts, and avocados in particular are three powerful sources of such good fats, according to the American Heart Association study.

Avocados are one of the highest fat fruits, making them especially vata-balancing and great for winter eating.

Most of the avocados we eat in the US come from Mexico, where they are harvested from November to April. The vata-balancing nature of avocados is the perfect antidote for the cooler winter months in the tropical Americas and a welcome vata-balancing fruit for those who live in cooler climates.

See also Winter Grocery List for a Vata-Balancing Diet

The Heart-Healthy Benefits of Walnuts

Walnuts are a staple in the Mediterranean diet and provide some of its most potent heart-healthy nutrients. These nuts are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, along with high levels of B6, folate, copper, and manganese.

According to the American Heart Association study, eating just ½ cup of walnuts a day for 2 years lowers LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol, known as bad cholesterol, and reduces the number of small LDL particles, which are considered a threat to cardiovascular health. A the end of the 2-year study, 90 percent of the 708 participants—from California and Spain—said that adding walnuts to their diet was an easy lifestyle change that delivered excellent benefits.

Here are the final study results of eating a handful of walnuts every day for two years:

  • Walnut eaters had  4.3 mg/dL lower LDL cholesterol levels
  • Walnut eaters had 8.5 mg/dL lower total cholesterol
  • Walnut eaters had a 6.1 percent reduction in more dangerous small LDL particles
  • Walnut eaters saw a reduction in IDL (intermediate density lipoprotein), which is a precursor to more dangerous LDL cholesterol

Note: As this was a group of elderly participants, 50 percent of them were being treated for high blood pressure and high cholesterol with Western medications, suggesting that there was already a significant lowering of cholesterol in place from standard medical care.

See also 10 Reasons to Eat Walnuts

A small bowl of cracked walnuts
Photo by Sahand Babali on Unsplash

The Heart-Healthy Benefits of Pecans

Pecans are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, thiamin, magnesium, iron, and zinc, and they are an excellent source of copper and manganese.

While pecans have not been popularized as a heart-healthy nut, the science begs to differ. In an eight week study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, subjects who ate pecans daily and saw significant reductions in cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL.

In this study, 52 adults between the ages of 30 to 75 who were at a high risk of heart disease were broken up into three groups:

Group 1: Ate additional calories from pecans daily

Group 2: Replaced a portion of calories from their regular diets with calories from pecans

Group 3: Ate a regular diet without pecans

In both groups that ate pecans, researchers saw an average drop of five percent in total cholesterol and a six to nine percent drop in LDL. Post-meal blood sugar was lower in the group that substituted pecans, and triglyceride levels were lower in the group that added pecans.

These may not seem like huge reductions in cholesterol, but for comparison, a review of 51 studies that evaluated how exercise lowered cholesterol found an average total cholesterol reduction of just 1 percent and an average LDL reduction of 5 percent. Combining pecans or walnuts with exercise should amplify the reward.

In another study, the benefits of olive oil were compared to the benefits of pecans. Of 136 patients with coronary artery disease, one group consumed 30 grams of pecans each day and another group consumed 30 ml of extra virgin olive oil every day. After 12 weeks, the pecan group saw a significant reduction in non-HDL cholesterol and in the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (good cholesterol).

A glass full of pecans
Photo by Delfina Cocciardi on Unsplash

The Heart-Healthy Benefits of Avocados

Avocados are a popular super food for good reason. They’re loaded with potassium, vitamin K, folate, vitamins C, E, B5, and B6, and small amounts of magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc.

On average, avocados have about 2 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber (soluble and insoluble), and 11 grams of vata-balancing, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They provide a great low-carb snack for winter.

In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, 105 adults with weight concerns ate one avocado a day for 12 weeks. This was not a study about losing weight. It was a study to evaluate whether or not avocados could change the distribution of fat away from the organs, supporting metabolic and cardiovascular health.

There are two ways the body stores fat:

  1. As reserve fuel under the skin, called subcutaneous fat; and
  2. Around the organs, which is the more dangerous visceral fat. Visceral fat has been linked to a number of health concerns, including diabetes and increased cardiovascular risk.

In this study, at the end of 12 weeks, the women who consumed a daily avocado saw a remarkable shift of unhealthy visceral fat to the healthier subcutaneous fat, indicating that one avocado a day can redistribute fat away from organs, including the heart. This healthy redistribution of fat, however, was not seen in men in this study.

In both men and women, avocados have been found to support healthy cholesterol levels, reducing triglycerides by 20 percent, lowering LDLs by 22 percent, and increasing HDL by 11 percent.

Let us know how you’re using walnuts, pecans, and avocados in your recipes and meal planning this fall and winter!

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Dr. John

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