Why You Should Be Eating Almonds

Why you should eat almonds blog

Almonds are delicious and versatile, and there’s now mounting evidence to suggest that they support heart health, gut health, appetite management, and even skin health. These potential benefits are linked to the vast array of nutrients found in these nuts, including mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients, as well as their fibre content.

Here are four great reasons to make almonds a regular part of your diet:

1. Heart Health

Several studies have found that including almonds as part of an overall healthy diet may help support healthy blood lipid levels, blood pressure, vascular function, and other factors involved in heart health.

Eating 10−100 g daily of these tasty nuts has been shown to keep undesirable low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in check while raising beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. [1]

Given that more than half of people with coronary artery disease (CAD) have low HDL levels even if they are successfully managing their LDL levels, almonds could make a great addition to a daily diet for heart health.

In one trial, people with CAD who had low levels of HDL cholesterol (40 mg/dL in men or 50 mg/dL in women) had a 14−16% increase in HDL cholesterol after 12 weeks of supplementation with 10 g of almonds a day before breakfast. By the end of the 12-week study, these participants also had reductions in total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol; total-to-HDL and LDL-to-HDL cholesterol ratios; and the atherogenic index. [1]

In another trial, men aged 20−70 who ate 50 g of almonds a day for four weeks had significant reductions in systolic blood pressure and improvements in blood flow.[2]

In the STALL (Statins and Almonds to Lower Lipoproteins) study, 100 g of almonds daily for four weeks, in addition to a consistent statin dose and lifestyle and dietary counselling, led to a 4.9% reduction in non-HDL cholesterol in volunteers, compared to a 3.5% increase in non-HDL cholesterol in matched volunteers who didn’t consume almonds. [3]

 

2. Healthy Weight Management

Nuts are typically rich in fats, which makes them very energy dense. This can prevent people from including nuts in their daily diet for fear of gaining weight. Interestingly, research suggests that adding almonds to your daily diet may actually support healthy weight management.

In one study, volunteers who ate almonds daily for 10 weeks did not gain weight, with researchers theorizing that this may be because almonds helped reduce their intake of calories from other sources. The amount of almonds the volunteers ate (around half a cup) was considered enough to have benefits for cardiovascular health. [4] In a four-week randomized, parallel-arm study, people with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes who ate 43 g of almonds a day as a snack in the morning or afternoon had lower post-meal blood glucose responses and reported feeling less hungry, compared to people not eating almonds. [5] People eating the nuts with breakfast or lunch also had lower post-prandial glucose responses. The risk of weight gain did not increase in those eating almonds either with meals or as a snack.

These benefits of almonds are most likely a result of their fibre content, with energy released slowly, supporting normal blood glucose levels and satisfying appetite.

In chewed almonds, 8.5–11.3% of the fats appear to be bioaccessible as most of the fats remain contained within cell walls.[6] In contrast, around 42% of the fats in almond flour appear to be bioaccessible, and roasted almonds, which have a slightly smaller particle size than when they’re raw, may also offer a faster source of ready energy once chewed.[7] As such, whole, raw almonds may be an ideal snack for anyone looking for a little extra help with weight management as they help us to feel fuller for longer, without resulting in weight gain.[8]

 

3. Gut Health

As a rich source of fibre, almonds and their skins have been found to exert beneficial effects on bacterial balance in the gut. These prebiotic properties were seen in a study where healthy adults who ate 56 g of roasted almonds per day or 10 g of almond skins for six weeks had significant increases in the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp.[9]

The form of almonds also matters when it comes to health benefits. Whole almonds are not digested as well as roasted and chopped almonds, while almond butter is the most easily digested. As such, whole almonds release less energy and fewer micronutrients than these other forms of the nut.[10]

What’s more, undigested portions of the nuts go on to influence microbiota in the gut, with additional potential health effects. For instance, finely ground almonds have been seen to act like a prebiotic in the laboratory to increase microbial production of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid.[11] Butyrate has been linked in various studies to benefical effects on the digestive system and metabolism.[12] As a result, adding ground almonds or almond butter to your morning smoothie may have rather different health benefits than simply snacking on a handful of whole nuts midmorning.

4. Almonds and Antioxidants

Almonds are a source of antioxidants, including vitamin E and a variety of proanthocyanidins. In  a randomized, controlled study for the National Cholesterol Education Program, patients with CAD went on a Step 1 diet (i.e., low in fat and cholesterol). The patients added 85 g of almonds to their diet for six weeks and had an average increase of 5.8% in blood levels of vitamin E.[13]
Another study found that vitamin E levels increased by 8.5% after four weeks of almond consumption.[14]

This study took place in Korea and was a crossover trial involving 84 adults who were overweight or obese. The volunteers were randomly assigned to eat either 56 g of almonds or isocaloric cookies daily for four weeks.

At the end of the study, those eating almonds had a 192.3% increase in intake of monounsaturated fatty acids, an 84.5% increase in intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, a 102.7% increase in vitamin E intake, and an 11.8% increase in dietary fibre. They also had a decrease of 14.1% in the percentage of energy from carbohydrate. The almonds did increase total caloric intake, but there was no increase in the participants’ body weight, waist circumference, or body composition. The almond group also enjoyed decreases in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and non-HDL cholesterol by 5.5%, 4.6%, and 6.4%, respectively, compared to the cookie control. In addition, the almond group had a decrease in the inflammatory marker interleukin-10, as well as several other markers for inflammation.
Importantly, many of the antioxidants in almonds (such as polysaccharides) appear to be concentrated in the peel.[15]

So, if you can, choose almonds or almond products that include the skins, instead of blanched almonds or strained almond milk. And, if you make your own almond milk at home, save the leftover pulp and bake it into cookies, crackers, or bread!

How to Eat Almonds

If you’re looking to get the most energy and nutrition from almonds, smaller particle size seems best, so opt for butters, ground almonds, or roasted almonds. If you’re looking for support with weight management or want to use them as prebiotics, whole almonds are likely a good option.

Whole, chopped, flaked, roasted, ground, or in almond butter form – however you eat your almonds, there are a myriad of health benefits and plenty of delicious ways to take advantage of these tasty nuts. Just be sure to avoid almonds or other foods sold in packaging that incorporates nanosilver, as this has been linked to cytotoxic effects on testicular tissue. [16]

References:

[1] Jamshed H, et al. Dietary almonds increase serum HDL cholesterol in coronary artery disease patients in a randomized controlled trial. J Nutr. 2015 Oct; 145(10):2287-2292.

[2] Choudhury K, et al. An almond-enriched diet increases plasma a-tocopherol and improves vascular function but does not affect oxidative stress markers or lipid levels. Free Radic Res. 2014 May; 48(5):599-606.

[3] Ruisinger JF, et al. Statins and almonds to lower lipoproteins (the STALL Study). J Clin Lipidol. 2015 Jan-Feb; 9(1):58-64.

[4] Hollis J, Mattes R. Effect of chronic consumption of almonds on body weight in healthy humans. Br J Nutr. 2007 Sep; 98(3):651-656.

[5] Tan SY, Mattes RD. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Nov; 67(11):1205-1214.

[6] Grundy MM, et al. Effect of mastication on lipid bioaccessibility of almonds in a randomized human study and its implications for digestion kinetics, metabolizable energy, and postprandial lipemia. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jan; 101(1):25-33.

[7] Grassby T, et al. Modelling of nutrient bioaccessibility in almond seeds based on the fracture properties of their cell walls. Food Funct. 2014 Dec; 5(12):3096-3106.

[8] Mandalari G, et al. The effects of processing and mastication on almond lipid bioaccessibility using novel methods of in vitro digestion modelling and micro-structural analysis. Br J Nutr. 2014 Nov 14; 112(9):1521-1529.

[9] Liu Z, et al. Prebiotic effects of almonds and almond skins on intestinal microbiota in healthy adult humans. Anaerobe. 2014 Apr; 26:1-6.

[10] Gebauer SK, Novotny JA, Bornhorst GM, et al. Food processing and structure impact the metabolizable energy of almonds. Food Funct. 2016 Oct 12; 7(10):4231-4238.

[11] Mandalari G, Nueno-Palop C, Bisignano G, et al. Potential prebiotic properties of almond (Amygdalus communis L.) seeds. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2008 Jul; 74(14):4264-4270.

[12] Holscher HD, Taylor AM, Swanson KS, et al. Almond consumption and processing affects the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiota of healthy adult men and women: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2018; 10(2):126. doi:10.3390/nu10020126

[13] Chen CY, et al. Effect of almond consumption on vascular function in patients with coronary artery disease: a randomized, controlled, cross-over trial. Nutr J. 2015 Jun 17; 14:61.

[14] Jung H, Chen CO, Blumberg JB, et al. The effect of almonds on vitamin E status and cardiovascular risk factors in Korean adults: a randomized clinical trial. Eur J Nutr. 2018 Sep; 57(6):2069-2079.

[15] Dammak MI, Chakroun I, Mzoughi Z, et al. Characterization of polysaccharides from Prunus amygdalus peels: Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities. Int J Biol Macromol. 2018 Nov; 119:198-206.

[16] Rezazadeh-Reyhani Z, Razi M, Malekinejad H, et al. Cytotoxic effect of nanosilver particles on testicular tissue: Evidence for biochemical stress and Hsp70-2 protein expression. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2015 Sep; 40(2):626-638.