Hawaiian Treasure, Macadamia Nuts Good for the Heart

April 30, 2007

Washington, D.C. — Incorporating macadamia nuts into a heart healthy diet can reducecardiovascular disease risks according to Penn State researchers.

"We looked at macadamia nuts because they are not currently included in the health claim for tree nuts, while other tree nuts are recommended as part of a healthy diet," says Dr. Amy E. Griel, recent Ph.D. recipient in nutritional sciences. "Macadamia nuts have higher levels of monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil compared with other tree nuts."

Macadamia nuts contain 59 grams of monounsaturated fat per 100 grams of nuts, compared to other tree nuts, which contain between nine and 46 grams per 100 grams of nuts.

The researchers used a controlled feeding study to compare a heart-healthy diet with 1.5 ounces — a small handful — of macadamia nuts to a standard American diet. The participants had slightly elevated cholesterol levels, normal blood pressure and were not taking lipid lowering drugs. Researchers randomly assigned participants to either the macadamia nut diet or the standard American diet and provided all meals for the participants for five weeks. The participants then switched diets and continued eating only food provided by the researchers for another five weeks.

The Healthy Heart diet with macadamia nuts did reduce total cholesterol,
low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared with the standard American diet.

"We observed a reduction in LDL similar to that seen with other tree nuts like walnuts and almonds," says Griel.

Individual calorie levels were used for each participant so that they did not gain or lose weight during the study. Both diets were matched for total fat, containing 33 percent calories from total fat. The Heart Healthy diet with macadamia nuts had 7 percent saturated fat, 18 percent monounsaturated fat and 5 percent polyunsaturated fat. The standard American diet had 13 percent saturated fat, 11 percent monounsaturated fat and 5 percent polyunsaturated fat.

The macadamia nut diet included macadamia nuts as a snack, mixed into meals, as a salad topping and in cookies and muffins.

"The total fat was the same in both diets," says Griel. "We substituted the macadamia nuts for other sources of fat and protein in the diet. For example, we could switch skim milk for 2 percent milk and add some macadamia nuts."

Macadamia nuts are native to Australia, but were imported to Hawaii and thrived. The first commercials crop of Hawaiian macadamia nuts was harvested in 1956.

Researchers from the nutritional sciences department on this study included Griel; Deborah M. Bagshaw, Clinical Coordinator Amy M. Cifelli, research dietitian; Yumei Cao, graduate student and Penny M. Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor.

This study was supported by The Hershey Company with partial support from NIH.

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EDITORS: Dr. Griel may be reached at Amy.Griel@gmail.com. Dr. Kris-Etherton may be reached at 814-853-2923 or by e-mail at pmk3@psu.edu