A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that a daily snack of 1.5 ounces of almonds instead of a high-carbohydrate muffin, eaten as part of an overall healthy diet, improved a number of heart disease risk factors in study participants.
In addition to significantly improving LDL and total cholesterol, snacking on almonds instead of muffins also reduced central adiposity (belly fat), a well-established heart disease risk factor.
Although heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States and worldwide, it is estimated that at least 80% of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease can be avoided if diet and lifestyle risk factors are controlled.
While a significant body of evidence has shown that eating almonds is associated with improved heart health, this is the first and largest controlled feeding study using identical diets with the exception of almonds vs. a calorie-matched snack to investigate and isolate the cardio-protective properties of almonds beyond their contributions to an overall heart-healthy diet. The findings are also the first of their kind to show benefits of eating almonds in reducing abdominal and leg fat. Reducing abdominal fat is particularly beneficial given its connection to metabolic syndrome and increased risk for heart disease.
The twelve-week, randomized, controlled clinical study, led by researchers at Penn State University, was conducted in 52 overweight, middle-aged adults who had high total and LDL cholesterol but were otherwise healthy. Participants ate cholesterol-lowering diets that were identical except that one group was given a daily snack of 1.5 ounces (42g) of whole natural almonds, while the other group was given a banana muffin that provided the same number of calories. Participants were provided all meals and snacks in amounts based on their calorie needs to maintain body weight, and followed each diet for six weeks.
The diet containing the almond snack, compared to the muffin snack, decreased total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol non-HDL-cholesterol and remnant lipoproteins. In addition, the diet with the muffin snack reduced HDL (good) cholesterol more than the almond diet.
Despite no differences in body weight or total fat mass, the almond diet significantly reduced abdominal fat mass, waist circumference and leg fat mass compared to the diet with the muffin snack.
“Our research found that substituting almonds for a high-carbohydrate snack improved numerous heart health risk factors, including the new finding that eating almonds reduced belly fat,” says Claire Berryman, PhD and lead researcher of the study. “Choosing almonds as a snack may be a simple way to help fight the onset of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.”
California almonds are a natural, wholesome and nutrient-rich food — high in vitamin E and magnesium, with 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber per one-ounce serving.
Berryman CE, West SG, Fleming JA, Bordi PL, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of Daily Almond Consumption on Cardiometabolic Risk and Abdominal Adiposity in Healthy Adults With Elevated LDL?Cholesterol: A Randomized Controlled Trial . Journal of the American Heart Association 2015; 4:e000993 DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.114.000993.
Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 oz of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
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Hollis J, Mattes R. Effect of chronic consumption of almonds on body weight in healthy humans. Br J Nutr 2007; 98(03): 651-656.
Tan S, Mattes R. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013; 67(11):1205-1214.
Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Sabate, J., Rajaram, S., Fraser, G.E. Long-term almond supplementation without advice on food replacement induces favourable nutrient modifications to the habitual diets of free-living individuals. Br. J. Nutr 2004; 92:533-540.
In a recent study, researchers used a method different than the traditional way to measure the calories in almonds and found they have about 20% fewer calories than originally thought. Novotny JA et al. Discrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 96(2): 296-301.
Almond Board of California