Once Thought “Too Fattening,” Macadamia Nuts Have a Whole New Image

Red wine, chocolate, macadamia nuts… healthy eating can be downright decadent. A new study from Penn State demonstrates that incorporating macadamia nuts in a heart-healthy diet can help further reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

HEALTHFUL NUTS

While studies have shown generally that consuming moderate portions of nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios may reduce the risk of heart disease, macadamia nuts have been excluded from the “good for you” list because of their relatively high concentration of saturated fat (6 grams of saturated fat per 50 grams, while the official FDA cutoff is 4 grams). However, macadamia nuts have higher levels of healthy monounsaturated fats compared with other nuts, notes study coauthor Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, distinguished professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University.

To test their cholesterol-lowering benefits, Dr. Kris-Etherton and her colleagues had volunteers follow diets either including or without macadamia nuts, eating them as a snack, or mixed into foods such as salad dressings and cookies. All foods were prepared and provided for participants.

At the start, the 25 men and women taking part in the study had normal or close to normal blood pressure and slightly elevated cholesterol levels, for which none were taking medication. For five weeks, they were randomly assigned to a standard American diet or a healthy blood cholesterol-lowering diet that included 1.5 ounces (about a handful) of macadamia nuts daily. Both diets met subjects’ energy needs and no study participants gained or lost weight.

The diets differed not in the overall amount of fat, but in the types consumed. Saturated fat can contribute to heart disease, while monounsaturated fats are associated with decreases in artery-clogging cholesterol. The macadamia nut diet included 7% saturated fat, 18% monounsaturated fat and 5% polyunsaturated fat. The standard American diet included 13% saturated fat, 12% monounsaturated fat and 5% polyunsaturated fat.

Researchers found that participants who followed the macadamia nut diet experienced…

  • Reduced total cholesterol by 9.4%.
  • Reduced LDL or “bad cholesterol” by 8.9%.
  • No change in blood fats known as triglycerides.

NUTS AND BOLTS: WHAT THE STUDY SAYS AND DOESN’T SAY

Results of the research were published in the April 2008 issue of The Journal of Nutrition. However, while there is no reason to doubt the test results, be aware that the study was funded by The Hershey Company, the owner of Mauna Loa brand macadamia nuts. It showed that macadamia nuts can be a healthy component of your diet, and should be enjoyed in conjunction with other healthy foods, and in moderation. Keep an eye on portion control, since an ounce of nuts generally contains about 200 calories. That said, eating an ounce or so of a variety of nuts daily — macadamias, but also walnuts, almonds, etc. — can play a beneficial role in an overall heart-healthy diet.