Add This Powerhouse Ingredient To Your Diet To Lower High Cholesterol

Smoking, physical inactivity, high levels of stress, or eating excess amounts of saturated fat can all place one at risk for hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol. Specifically, hypercholesterolemia pertains to having higher than normal levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol or lower than normal levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. Genetics, medication, and certain health conditions can also cause levels of LDL cholesterol to rise. But there's one powerhouse ingredient that has a proven reputation for lowering high cholesterol, and the answer is a bit of a tough nut to crack — literally.

Break out the nutcracker! It's the walnut. Underneath their thick, hardened exterior, these single-seeded fruits are a goldmine of nutrients. In a single 1-ounce serving of English walnuts, you'll get 4.31 grams of protein, 1.9 grams of fiber, nearly 28 milligrams of calcium, over 98 milligrams of phosphorus, and 44.8 milligrams of magnesium, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While high amounts of saturated fat can work against our cholesterol health, walnuts, on the other hand, are abundant in healthy fats, which may oppositely support our cardiovascular health, according to 2009 research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Eating walnuts may lower cholesterol in the short-term and the long run

In the 2009 systematic review, researchers analyzed 13 different studies whose findings showed the heart health benefits of short-term walnut consumption on participant blood lipid profiles. Across more than 360 participants, those who ate a walnut-dense diet for anywhere between four weeks and 24 weeks experienced significant drops in LDL and total cholesterol levels compared to those who adhered to control diets.

While these may have been short-term trials, researchers from a 2021 study published in Circulation investigated the long-term health benefits of eating walnuts on a daily basis. The study team tracked over 700 healthy older adults in Spain and California, the majority of whom were women. The study findings revealed that adults who ate approximately ½ cup of walnuts every day for two years saw modest decreases in their LDL cholesterol levels compared to participants who ate no walnuts whatsoever during the course of the study. On average, participants who were eating walnuts on a daily basis saw a 4.3 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) decrease in their "bad" cholesterol after two years.

How walnuts affect LDL cholesterol

Walnuts are one of many foods packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and it's these healthy fats that are known to lower one's risk of stroke, heart disease, and more. However, findings from the 2021 study showed there may be multiple reasons for this relationship between heart health and eating walnuts. "One of the reasons is that they lower LDL cholesterol levels, and now we have another reason: They improve the quality of LDL particles," co-author on the study Dr. Emilio Ros stated in a news release (via the American Heart Association). In other words, in addition to lowering LDL cholesterol levels, eating walnuts also appeared to decrease the size and concentration of the LDL particles themselves.

While participants did not experience drastic cholesterol decreases, Dr. Ros emphasized that making walnuts a regular, everyday snack may be an effective way to support our heart health. Although some experts caution against consuming walnuts in excess due to the possibility of weight gain from their healthy fat content, the researchers found participants in the walnut group did not gain weight. One other factor to be mindful of is the sodium content of walnuts. A 1-ounce serving of English walnuts contains approximately 0.56 milligrams of sodium (via USDA), but the same-size serving of dry roasted walnuts with salt added contains 180 milligrams of sodium (via USDA).