Handful of nuts and seeds pack a punch for heart health

Small white bowls containing a different variety of nuts and seeds within each bowl.

New advice from the Heart Foundation reveals that eating as little as three to four handfuls of nuts and seeds a week has a significant benefit for heart health, decreasing the risk of heart disease by around 20%.

Nuts and seeds are nutrient dense foods packed with heart-healthy fats, fibre and protein and a wide range of essential micronutrients. Eating them regularly within an overall healthy diet helps to lower total and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol.

In New Zealand, our consumption of nuts and seeds is generally low. Data from the last Adult Nutrition Survey1 suggests that average population intakes of nuts and seeds are around a third of the Heart Foundation’s recommendation.

Heart Foundation National Nutrition Advisor Lily Henderson says the goal is to get more New Zealanders to build more nuts and seeds into their everyday meals.

“Making small changes to your diet by regularly including a few handfuls of nuts and seeds has a positive impact on our heart health,” she says. “Most of the benefits are seen when we eat up to 15g every day (or three to four handfuls a week), but further heart health benefits are likely with intakes higher than this.

“The great news is, regular intake of these amounts is not only good for us, there’s also good evidence from large population studies and clinical trials showing no impact on body weight which is a common misconception.”

Lily says to get the greatest health benefits, nuts and seeds should be eaten as close to their natural form as possible, for example, whole, sliced or ground. Nut and seed butters like peanut butter are also a fantastic option especially when compared to other spreads like jam or honey.

She says with ongoing rises to the prices of groceries and with many New Zealand households already having their food budget stretched it’s a good idea to focus on the cheapest options.

“Peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseeds are some of the cheapest options per 100g and are just as nutritious when compared to other nuts and seeds2.

“Peanut butter is another low-cost way to add nuts into your diet and there are plenty of uses beyond spreading it on toast.”

Lily says we’re lucky to have a wide selection of peanut butters available on our supermarket shelves to suit different tastes and budgets.

Here’s some tips for including more nuts and seeds in your diet.

  • Add them to meals you already eat - the bonus is they add protein to keep you satisfied and extra texture and flavour.
  • They can be added to breakfast, lunch and dinner meals or eaten as a snack.
  • Sprinkle toasted sunflower seeds on top of a salad, add a spoonful of peanut butter in a smoothie or sesame seeds to top an Asian dish.
  • Look for products that include them as a key ingredient such as cereal, crackers and bread. Consider the overall healthiness of the product and choose the least processed options where you can.

It’s well known that tree nuts, peanuts and certain seeds can trigger an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) in some people, which can be life-threatening. Follow the advice of your GP or health professional if you’ve had a reaction to any type of nut or seed.

To download the Heart Foundation nuts and seeds position statement or for more ideas on how to increase your nut and seed intake, and discover delicious recipes, click on the buttons below.

 

Nuts and seeds position statement Nuts and seeds for heart health

References

1. New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey 2008/09 Food file
2. Price comparisons for nuts and seeds observed via Countdown Online, November 2021. No flavoured or coated nuts were included in the price comparison.