Cholesterol is a type of fat found in foods. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad" cholesterol that can build up in arteries and lead to heart disease and other illness. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is beneficial, because it can help remove harmful fats from the bloodstream. According to the Mayo Clinic, nuts are a tasty and healthy snack rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating about a handful of nuts three to four times a week.
Besides being a source of high monounsaturated fat, walnuts are a rich source of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, The World's Healthiest Foods reports. Walnuts contain l-arginine, an amino acid that is linked to reduced hypertension, because it causes blood cells to relax and stay smooth. Since all nuts are high in fat, eating too much can cause you to gain weight. The Mayo Clinic advises substituting cheese or croutons with walnuts as a salad topping. Finely chopped walnuts can also replace flour or cornstarch as a thickener for sauces.
Cashews contain significantly less fat than other nuts, and a majority of the fat is composed of monounsaturated fats. In particular, cashew nuts are a rich source of oleic acid, the same fat found in olive oil that is linked to reduced heart disease and triglyceride levels. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, unsaturated fats help reduce inflammation and keep heart rhythms stable. The high antioxidant content in cashews also helps protect your heart from disease. Cashews may be ground into paste for a tasty spread, and they also complement vegetable dishes and stir-fry dishes.
Unlike walnuts and cashews, almonds are actually the seed of the plant, rather than the fruit. Almonds are rich in monounsaturated fats such as oleic acid, and, along with walnuts and olive oil, they can be an important component of heart-healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet. To protect your heart and keep your weight down, the Mayo Clinic recommends replacing animal fats with plant-based fats found in nuts and vegetable oils.
The nutty flavor of pumpkin seeds is tasty and nutritious. Though low in calories, they are a rich source of zinc and manganese--essential micronutrients that are hard to obtain from other foods. According to The World's Healthiest Foods, pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols, a compound similar to cholesterol that can help increase the ratio of LDL and HDL by lowering LDL cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds are also a healthy source of fiber and are a tasty addition to salads, pastas and meat dishes.