November 4, 2008

The Joy of Almonds

Munching on the nuts may help reduce known factors for heart disease, a recent study finds

By Taylor McNeil

Volunteers who ate the full serving of almonds had two distinctly lower markers for oxidative stress, which can lead to heart disease, researchers report. Photo: iStockphoto

The next time you see a bowl full of almonds and are tempted to munch, go ahead: it turns out they are even better for you than previously thought.

Almonds—and other nuts—already have the FDA’s seal of approval. The federal agency suggests that eating 1.5 ounces a day is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Now a recent study has found that almonds in particular seem to reduce oxidative stress, a factor for heart disease not previously associated with consumption of nuts.

The research published in the Journal of Nutrition found antioxidant properties in almonds, says co-author Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

A group of 27 people with elevated cholesterol were randomly assigned three different choices: eating about 2.5 ounces of almonds daily; consuming half that amount in almonds and half in whole-wheat muffins; and eating only muffins—the last as a control. They all ate a low-fat diet during the study and were urged to maintain a steady exercise regimen.

After one month, the results were clear: the volunteers who ate the full serving of almonds had two distinctly lower markers for oxidative stress, which was additional to the known effect nuts have on serum cholesterol. “Thus, other mechanisms of action must be in play as well,” Blumberg says.

The antioxidant compounds in almonds are “likely to be flavonoids and phenolics found in high concentrations in their skins,” the researchers report. The compounds may be working independently or in synergy with other antioxidants, including vitamin E and vitamin C, they write.

Even though almonds are high in fat, “only dietary saturated fat increases serum cholesterol, and the mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in almonds have no adverse effect on serum cholesterol,” Blumberg says. “While all types of fat are energy-dense—they do contain a lot of calories per gram—nut consumption is, in fact, associated with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity, perhaps because they induce satiety.”

An important distinction that Blumberg makes is that most people don’t consume nuts, including almonds, in such large daily amounts as the study subjects did. “Thus, in some respects, an important question is whether lower doses have similar effects,” he says.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at

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