If you have a family history of heart disease or have had high cholesterol in the past, your doctor has probably told you time and again to change your diet. You need to keep your intake of dietary cholesterol to a minimum, but fortunately plant-based foods like nuts, do not have cholesterol. As an added bonus, nuts are full of heart-healthy fats that can actually improve cholesterol levels in your body.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty waxy substance that you actually need in your body. It helps produce certain hormones and supports the structure of cells, arteries and veins. Although you use some cholesterol, everything you need is made by your liver. When you get cholesterol from your diet, it is more than you need and your system works hard to get rid of it. Problems arise when you get too much in your diet. Cholesterol builds up on arterial walls, causing an array of problems, like blood clots and high blood pressure. Eventually, you may suffer from heart disease because of the added strain on your heart.
Cholesterol in Foods
Cholesterol only comes from meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, seafood and any other animal-based food. You need to keep your intake of dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams per day or under 200 milligrams if you already have a risk of developing heart disease, reports the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. Just to give you an idea of about how much cholesterol is in the foods you eat, 8 ounces of low-fat milk have 10 milligrams, while the same amount of yogurt contains nearly 30 milligrams. A large, whole egg provides 212 milligrams, 3.5 ounces of lean ground beef offer around 80 milligrams and shrimp has nearly 60 milligrams of cholesterol per ounce.
Healthy Fats in Nuts
Nuts are calorie-dense, meaning that you get a lot of calories for a small portion size. However, almost all of the fats in nuts are beneficial. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or any other kind of nuts are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are often known as MUFAs and PUFAs. These fats improve blood cholesterol levels by lowering harmful low-density lipoprotein and elevating beneficial high-density lipoprotein. While nuts are naturally cholesterol-free and full of good fats, you should measure your portion size ahead of time rather than snacking straight from the can. You'll be less likely to overindulge and consume too many calories when you stick to the recommended portion size listed on the nutrition facts label.
Many varieties of nuts have a small amount of saturated fat, but animal-based foods have a much higher amount of this bad fat per serving. Saturated fat is especially harmful when paired with cholesterol-rich foods because it enhances the negative effects of dietary cholesterol. Your blood cholesterol levels are more likely to skyrocket over time, further adding to your risk of heart problems. Ensure that no more than 10 percent of your total calories comes from saturated fat, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Since fats have 9 calories per gram, you can have a maximum of 22 grams per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. A single 1-ounce serving of almonds, for example, has about 1 gram of saturated fat versus a moderate 4-ounce broiled beef sirloin steak, which contains 4 grams.
- University of California San Francisco Medical Center: Cholesterol Content of Foods
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Beef, Top Sirloin, Steak, Separable Lean and Fat, Trimmed to 0" Fat, Select, Cooked, Broiled
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nuts, Almonds
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.