Could a handful of almonds a day could keep the doctor away?
By Becky Fletcher
They make a great go-to snack and are packed with nutritious goodness, so it may come as little surprise that eating almonds on a regular basis could boost levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, dubbed the ‘good’ cholesterol, while improving the way it removes low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (or ‘bad’ cholesterol), according to a new study.
The researchers looked at HDL cholesterol levels and function in 48 people who ate 48g almonds (around a handful) on a daily basis over six-weeks, and the HDL levels of the participants when they swapped their almonds for a banana muffin for a further six-weeks.
They discovered that when eating almonds every day, the HDL levels and functionality of the cholesterol improved.
A bulk of previous research has suggested that almonds lower LDL cholesterol – a major risk of heart disease – but not much is known about how the nuts affect HDL cholesterol levels. The researchers also wanted to see how almonds impact the function of ‘good’ cholesterol.
In a press release, Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition at Penn State University, explained: “HDL is very small when it gets released into circulation… It’s like a garbage bag that slowly gets bigger and more spherical as it gathers cholesterol from cells and tissues before depositing them in the liver to be broken down.”
Depending on how much cholesterol it has collected, HDL cholesterol is categorised into five ‘subpopulations’, ranging from the very small preβ-1 to a larger, more mature one called α-1. The researchers hoped that eating almonds would result in more of these larger α-1 particles, which would signal improved HDL function.
The researchers found that, compared to the control diet, the almond diet increased the α-1 HDL subpopulation (when the particles are at their largest size and most mature stage) by 19%. The almond diet also improved HDL function by 6.4%, in participants of normal weight.
Professor Kris-Etherton added:
“We were able to show that there were more larger particles in response to consuming the almonds compared to not consuming almonds… That would translate to the smaller particles doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re going to tissues and pulling out cholesterol, getting bigger, and taking that cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body.”
While daily almond intake won’t eliminate your risk of heart disease, they do make a good option for a healthy snack as they contain healthy fats, vitamin E and fibre.
Further study is needed and it’s worth mentioning the Almond Board of California supported the study.
The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.