Are Almonds Good For You?

Whether it is marketing or just information picked up from the news, it is very common to hear that nuts are good for your health.  More specifically, you often hear that nuts make your heart healthy.  As I mentioned, marketing companies have taken this news and made it very obvious by plastering statements and diagrams of red hearts on the packaging of many brands of nuts.  We are most interested in almonds and what they can do or you.  Are almonds good for you?   More importantly, do almonds significantly impact your cholesterol levels?  Do they help reduce bad cholesterol?

Shelled almonds (Prunus dulcis)

Image via Wikipedia

Before we get too far into discussing the possible benefits of almonds lets take a look at the nutritional value of these nuts (this is a misnomer since almonds are really a seed, but we will stick with calling them nuts since that is how everyone associates them):

Nutritional Value Of Almonds

  • Serving Size: 1 ounce (28g)
  • Calories: 161
  • Total Fat: 14g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrate: 6mg
  • Protein: 6g
  • Vitamin E:  37% daily value based on a 2000 calorie diet
  • Manganese:  32% daily value based on a 2000 calorie diet
  • Calcium: 7% daily value based on a 2000 calorie diet
  • Iron: 6% daily value based on a 2000 calorie diet

The first thing we can notice is that most of the calories contained in an almond comes from fat.  There are 9 calories for every gram of fat.  This means that there are 126 calories from fat in one ounce of almonds, which is over 78% of the total calories.  So, most of the calories from almonds come from fat.  This is not as bad as it seems since we are now aware that fat, in general, is not necessarily bad.  Most of the fat (over 90%) of the fat in an almond is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which is considered ‘heart-healthy’.

We can also notice that there is a lot of protein in a serving of almonds.  Not only that, but they are a good source of Vitamin E and Manganese.

Of the 6mg of carbohydrates, 3mg is of dietary fiber.

Why are almonds considered healthy for your heart?

The FDA considers adding nuts to a healthy diet as a great way to decrease the risk of heart disease.  To back this up, the FDA now allows labels to read:

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.

For any federal government agency to provide a statement like this in regards to any food product means that there is strong evidence to support it.

One of the strongest pieces of evidence is a review of several large scientific studies by Dr. Gary E. Fraser (Nut consumption, lipids, and risk of a coronary event).   The review found that people who regularly consumed nuts had a decreased risk of heart disease of up to 50%.  Also, it was found that when almonds or walnuts were consumed regularly the level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) was reduced by 8-12%.

A study that more specifically focused on almonds was conducted at the Loma Linda University in California.  This study followed 25 health adults for two weeks as they were given one of three diets that had varying amounts of almonds – 0%, 10%, and 20% of total calories.  The results of this study strongly suggest that almonds help to reduce bad cholesterol levels.  When compared to those on the 0% almond diet, the people that consumed the 20% almond diet saw a decrease in their LDL levels of 7% and a reduction of total cholesterol by 4.4%.  The decrease of LDL cholesterol correlates to a 11% decrease in heart disease risk.

Why do almonds help lower LDL cholesterol levels?

Dietary fiber is known to help with the reduction of cholesterol levels.  The 3mg of dietary fiber found in a one ounce serving of almonds is one way in which these nuts help to lower cholesterol levels.

Almonds contain a lot of fat, but nearly all of it is monounsaturated fat.  It is suggested that this type of fat interacts with LDL cholesterol molecules and makes them more likely to attach to receptors in the liver.  This means that more LDL gets caught up in the liver so it is not floating around in your blood where it can get caught in your artery walls and lead to a risk of coronary plaque and ultimately heart disease.

Finally, almonds have a high amount of Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant.  Since Vitamin is fat-soluble it can be incorporated within the LDL molecule and can then prevent oxidation.

Can I eat as many almonds as I want?

It is important to note that with the high amount of fat almonds pack a lot of calories in a small serving.  If you eat too much, even though they are loaded with nutrients and the fat is a ‘good’ type of fat, there is the risk of weight gain.  Therefore, if you are not already incorporating nuts into your diet, you must take into account the additional calories that 1-2 ounces of nuts every day will add.  The best way to do this is to substitute almonds for other snacks that you regularly consume.  Also, don’t sit down with a large jar of nuts.  Take just a handful so you are not tempted to continue snacking.

The recommended daily amount of almonds to consume is 1.5 ounces.  This comes out to around 30 almonds.

Can I eat roasted almonds, salted almonds, or almond butter?  What other nuts can I eat?

There is one question that many people ask – is almond butter good for you?  Ideally, you should just eat raw, unsalted almonds but however you can consume your daily almonds will be just fine and it is likely you will see benefits with salted almonds, roasted almonds, and almond butter.  The most important thing to note is that you should find nuts that include the skin since it includes a lot of nutrients.  Your first choice should be raw unsalted almonds.  After that, look for dry-roasted almonds (light salted, smoked, or dusted with spices is okay in moderation) or almond butter.  A recent study has indicated that almond butter benefits are similar to what you would get with eating whole nuts.

When reviewing all of the recent studies it is clear that your best option is to just consume almonds.  However, it is completely understood that consuming the same thing every day can get quite monotonous.  After almonds, walnuts are a close second in regards to the benefits to your heart health.  So if you find yourself becoming bored with your daily almonds, substitute some walnuts every few days.

Are almonds good for you?  While it is hard to give a definite answer to a question like that, most of the studies indicate that almonds provide many health benefits.  The most important benefits may include lower LDL levels and a lower risk of heart disease.

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