There are plenty of reasons you can feel good about adding a handful of almonds to your daily diet. Among them are many scientific studies that support almonds’ benefits in helping to prevent heart disease. In 2003, the FDA approved a qualified health claim that states “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Since then, evidence has continued to mount, with new scientific studies each year championing the idea that eating almonds and other nuts can play a positive role in lowering the risk of heart disease.
Number one killer
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and heart disease and stroke combined account for the vast majority of deaths in the U.S. each year. So it’s easy to understand why scientists have taken a keen interest in finding ways to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a known culprit behind cardiovascular disease that leads to heart attacks and strokes.
In the early 1990s, scientists first discovered that adding almonds to the diet appeared to lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Since then, researchers have been exploring the connection, resulting in a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the idea that a diet that includes nutrient-dense almonds can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Why lowering LDL cholesterol is important
Cholesterol, a fatty substance your body needs to function, is made up of low-density and high-density lipoproteins, or LDL and HDL, which need to be kept in balance. When LDL is too high, it can stick to blood vessel walls. HDL cholesterol acts as the cleanup crew, collecting the excess LDL and taking it to the liver to be eliminated.
Too much LDL overwhelms the HDL cleanup crew, so that LDL builds up on cell walls creating a substance called plaque, which can gradually clog blood vessels and cut off blood supply to the heart. Plaque can also break open and create blood clots that travel to the heart, causing heart attacks, and to the brain, causing strokes. By lowering the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood, you can improve the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol, giving the HDL a chance to clean up the excess LDL and prevent plaque from building up.
Exploring other benefits
Almonds are high in monounsaturated fat, fiber, vitamin E, minerals such as magnesium and copper, and phytonutrients. While the complex mix of nutrients packed into every almond may help lower bad cholesterol, scientists are now exploring whether almonds’ unique nutrient blend might offer other benefits as well. Research conducted in recent years indicates that almonds may lessen other risk factors related to heart disease, including:
- Insulin sensitivity
Almonds may fight insulin resistance by helping the body become more responsive to insulin. Improving insulin sensitivity can help people with prediabetes process food better and lessen the chance of moving into full-blown diabetes.
Researchers are looking into almonds’ ability to reduce inflammation, which tests show is commonly present in heart attack and stroke patients. Scientists believe this may be a case of the solution becoming part of the problem and that inflammation may come about because the body’s defense system perceives plaque buildup as foreign and abnormal. When the white blood cells fail in their mission to fight, the cells die and become another ingredient in plaque’s composition.
- Oxidative stress
Researchers are also studying whether almonds act as an antioxidant to limit oxidative stress, a condition connected to a number of diseases, including heart disease. Oxidative stress occurs when chemical reactions in the body create peroxide and harmful free radicals that damage cells.
The bottom line
The connection between almonds and heart disease is providing fertile ground for research, resulting in promising results from a number of new studies each year. While research continues, for now, you can feel good about treating your taste buds and your heart to a handful of almonds every day.
You can read more about the connection between almonds and heart health in the Nutrition Benefits section at www.AlmondsAreIn.com. To read specific study citations, visit http://www.almondsarein.com/9studies.cfm.
Note: The Almond Board webpage above is out of date. It only goes to 2009 and there have been at least a dozen new studies supporting the idea that almonds help fight heart disease since it was created.