Are you looking for simple ways to improve your heart health? Including a handful of almonds, whether it's as a snack or sprinkled throughout your day, may be one easy and satisfying way. Over the past few months, new research on almonds continues to show why including a handful of almonds can help you to be true to your heart. Here's a look at what they are finding.
Almonds are high in several types of antioxidants. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods is thought to prevent damage to cells in your body, a mechanism implicated in the development of chronic disease. Fruits and vegetables have long been known for their antioxidant content, but more recently researchers at Tufts University discovered that almonds also contain high levels of several antioxidant compounds, in amounts similar to levels found in many fruits and vegetables. A one ounce serving of almonds or about a handful, for instance, contains the same amount of antioxidants as a serving of cooked broccoli or a serving of brewed green or black tea.
"This analysis of almond skin antioxidants sheds more light on all the nutrients in almonds that may provide a health benefit," says study author Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "These new findings coupled with past results lay the groundwork for future clinical trials that examine a link between whole almond consumption and the reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions."
Eating almonds may improve blood sugar levels. Keeping blood sugar levels in a normal range can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Almonds are a food that causes a minimal rise in blood sugar levels, also known as low-glycemic. But did you know almonds may also help to reduce blood sugar levels following a carbohydrate based meal.
In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers gave healthy men and women four different test meals, each containing 50 grams of carbohydrate. The control test meal contained white bread. The second meal contained white bread and 60 grams of almonds. The third meal contained parboiled rice, and the fourth meal contained instant mashed potatoes. All meals were balanced for fat, protein and calories. Blood sugar and insulin levels were tested following each of the meals. Results showed that subjects who ate the almond meal had significantly lower rises in blood sugar and insulin levels afterwards.
Almonds play a key role in a cholesterol lowering eating plan. A one year study showed that eating a certain combination of heart-healthy foods, including almonds, oatmeal, lean meats and fish can help reduce LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol as much as a cholesterol-lowering drug. This combination is called the Portfolio Eating Plan.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), builds off previous tightly controlled clinical studies and was designed to answer the question of what happens when people follow the Portfolio Eating Plan in a real world setting for one year. For those subjects who closely followed the eating plan, they were able to lower their bad cholesterol levels by more than 20 percent.Cholesterol reduction was even seen in those subjects who followed the plan less closely. Researchers noted that compliance for almonds was high with a majority of patients eating a handful of almonds a day.
Almonds are a satisfying snack that may help with weight maintenance. Weight control is an important step on the road to a healthy heart. However, in the pursuit of weight loss, feelings of deprivation and hunger often get in the way. These feelings are seen as the opponent of many dieters and often cited as the reason for throwing in the towel on weight loss efforts. That's why many researchers are working to identify those foods that are satisfying and can help keep hunger at bay. Research on almonds is showing that this nut may be one of those satiating foods.
In a recent study, researchers worked with 20 overweight women having them eat two handfuls of almonds or about 300 calories worth. The researchers found that despite including this amount of almonds, the subjects' weight or body mass index did not change. "We concluded that the women found their daily almond snack to be very filling, and so they naturally compensated in their caloric intake at other times of the day," said the lead researcher, Richard Mattes, P.h.D, R.D. from Purdue University. "This work demonstrates that almonds are not only nutritious, they can be satisfying - a good choice in place of something less nutrient-rich and less filling, such as pretzels or chips."
A one-ounce, 160-calorie handful of almonds is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, a good source of protein and fiber, and offers potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.