For people who want to lower their cholesterol level, it may be as simple as adding some pecans to their diet. Researchers from the University of Georgia found people at risk of cardiovascular disease were able to lower their total cholesterol by 5% and their LDL cholesterol by as much as 9% in just eight weeks.
Those improvements are even better than what was seen in a meta-analysis of 51 studies regarding exercise to lower cholesterol. Those studies reported an average of a 1% reduction in total cholesterol and a 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
"This dietary intervention, when put in the context of different intervention studies, was extremely successful," said Jamie Cooper, a professor in the Family and Consumer Sciences department of nutritional sciences. "We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention."
Researchers believe the bioactive properties of the pecan make the reduction possible. Pecans are high in fiber, antioxidants and healthy fatty acids. All three have been shown beneficial in cholesterol reduction.
"The addition of pecans to the diet not only produced a greater and more consistent reduction in total cholesterol and LDL compared to many other lifestyle interventions, but may also be a more sustainable approach for long-term health," Cooper said. "Some research shows that even a 1% reduction in LDL is associated with a small reduction of coronary artery disease risk, so these reductions are definitely clinically meaningful."
Scientists divided a group of 52 adults at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease into three groups. The study participants, who ranged in age between 30 and 75, were either given 68 grams of pecans a day to add to their diet, or were asked to substitute pecans for a similar amount of calories from their regular diet. The third group ate no pecans.
The study participants had their blood lipids checked again after eight weeks. Researchers also measured how much sugar was in their blood. Both pecan groups showed similar improvements in their fasting blood lipids. The group that added pecans to their diet had a reduction in their post-meal triglyceride level and the group that substituted pecans for other foods saw a decrease in post-meal glucose levels.
"Whether people added them or substituted other foods in the diet for them, we still saw improvements and pretty similar responses in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular," Coper said.