Three studies presented during this week's 2005 Experimental Biology conference add to the growing body of research that eating just a handful of almonds may be a valuable tool to combat some of America's leading health threats, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
The studies suggest that one reason for almonds' healthful benefits may be the way their nutrients are absorbed in the body. Almonds appear to help block absorption of fat and carbohydrates and improve satiety, which may be a key mechanism behind their heart-healthy, cholesterol lowering and weight- maintenance capabilities.
"Our research shows that the fiber structure of almonds may block some of the fat from being absorbed, thereby reducing the calories available from almonds," says research presenter Peter Ellis, PhD, King's College London. "It is possible that the fiber in almonds is also affecting carbohydrate absorption, which may have implications for diabetes and heart disease."
Among the findings presented at Experimental Biology:
Adding almonds to your diet may contribute to greater satiety and may prevent weight gain. According to researchers at Purdue University, preliminary results show that adding nearly two servings of almonds to one's existing diet had no effect on body weight or percentage of body fat. The study showed that people who added almonds to their diets reduced calories from other food sources. As a result, individuals did not consume extra calories or gain weight.
"We found it to be remarkable that participants naturally compensated for the added calories from almonds in their diet," said study author James Hollis, PhD, Purdue University. "Our early hypothesis is that the fiber and protein found in almonds may contribute to greater satiety, which in turn helps people maintain their body weight."
Although this natural compensation for added calories has been documented in other almond studies, more data must be collected and analyzed before researchers can fully explain why almonds have this effect.
Eating almonds as part of a heart-healthy diet may lower cholesterol as much as statin drugs, even among patients in a non-clinical setting. University of Toronto research provides more evidence that almonds are one of the most heart-healthy foods around. The study finds that a certain heart- healthy dietary approach including almonds is effective in lowering LDL, or "bad" cholesterol significantly even when participants consumed the almonds as part of their regular daily routine. The approach, known as the "Portfolio" eating plan because it includes a variety of heart-healthy foods, combines recognized heart-healthy foods such as oatmeal, beans, olive oil, soy products and a daily one-ounce handful of almonds.
New preliminary study findings suggest that nearly 30 percent of subjects lowered cholesterol levels by more than 20 percent in the non-clinical setting, a result consistent with an earlier dietary study that found a cholesterol reduction similar to statins. Researchers called almonds a "mini- Portfolio" because in and of themselves, they contain several components emphasized in the eating plan -- vegetable protein, fiber, plant sterols and other several heart-healthy nutrients.
Almonds slow absorption of carbohydrates in the body, which may help management of diabetes. In addition to lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, researchers at the University of Toronto are finding that eating almonds may reduce the impact carbohydrate- rich food has on blood sugar levels. Preliminary data highlight that eating almonds along with carbohydrate-rich foods creates a slower rise in blood sugar, which may increase satiety and help to keep insulin levels from fluctuating too dramatically. More research into the effects of almonds on diabetes management and blood sugar levels is planned.