Cashews: A better choice than low-fat chips?

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If you're craving a crunchy snack, a handful of cashews is a heart-healthy choice, a small study suggests.

Although they're a popular pick in nut mixes, cashews have a bit of a bad rap. Because cashews contain about 20% saturated fat, the FDA omitted them from the qualified health claim suggesting that nuts may lower heart disease risk when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

But most of the saturated fat in cashews is from stearic acid, a fatty acid thought to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. And when 51 volunteers added 1 to 2 ounces of cashews to their daily diets for four weeks, their harmful LDL cholesterol levels dropped by about 5%, compared with when they ate a control diet.

The control diet included baked potato chips instead of cashews. The exact amounts of both snacks were adjusted to provide about 11% of each person's total calorie intake. An ounce of cashews (about 18 medium nuts) provides 163 calories. The study findings were published online March 29, 2017, by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.