Regularly eating nuts positively contributes to the protection of the heart and circulation. Usually, this effect is attributed to the good fatty acid composition in nuts. However, studies introduce yet another group of nut ingredients to the discussion: antioxidants. These biomarkers, which protect our cells by 'neutralising' free radicals in the body, include vitamin E, polyphenols, which are classed as secondary phytochemicals, and phytosterols (of plant origin, akin to cholesterol in terms of chemistry). Nuts contain all these ingredients and therefore have high antioxidative potential. Furthermore, their effect is enhanced by way of the interaction of multiple antioxidants, compared to the effectiveness of a single antioxidative biomarker. The phytosterol beta-sitosterol occurring in peanuts, for instance, causes the formation of two enzymes that can degrade oxygen radicals (e.g. hydrogen peroxide), thus protecting the red blood cells. Also, the consumption of nuts leads to lower LDL oxidation. LDL cholesterol is called 'bad cholesterol'. LDL oxidation means that the unsaturated fatty acids in an LDL particle undergo change. Rapid LDL oxidation promotes the development of arteriosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The greater the antioxidant content – for example by way of regular consumption of nuts – the less the extent and pace of LDL oxidation.
Ros E.: Nuts and novel biomarkers of cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr, 2009, 89 (suppl): 1649S–56S