Almonds are a culinary dichotomy. They are relatively high in fat, and yet beneficial to heart health. How can that be? Almonds are high in a specific type of fat, the same sort that is found in olive oil; this is a monosaturated fat, much healthier than saturated fats contained in meats and dairy products. We still need fats in our diet, so why not eat almonds and get healthy fats instead of those that can damage and promote diseases of the heart! The health benefits of almonds are diverse and easy to enjoy.
One of the reasons that almonds have such excellent health benefits has nothing to do with what type of fats they contain. They are delicious! As a result, people don’t have to be forced to eat them, so the benefits are more willingly ingested. Boasting a delicate flavor and great versatility in both sweet and savory cooking and baking, almonds are practical, versatile and very portable; a small bag makes a great snack on the go. Roasted or raw, with or without salt, almonds are available year round and cost significantly less than some other types of more exotic nuts.
What Makes Almonds Beneficial to General Good Health?
One-quarter of a cup of almonds delivers a wallop of good nutrition and has only 205 calories, so a serving is also appropriate for those trying to lose weight; they are filling and help to curb cravings. Here are the other properties of almonds that are generally good for you, and specifically help in working to lower LDL cholesterol levels:
- vitamin E
- vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
That satisfying serving of almonds contains almost half of the adult daily requirements for manganese and vitamin E. Not bad for the seed of a tree! Because almonds are grown on trees, they are 100% vegan, and make an excellent protein substitute for vegetarians, even strict ones. There is more protein in 1/4 cup of almonds than in a large egg, and eggs are definitely not beneficial to keeping LDL cholesterol levels in check! In fact, studies have shown that substituting almonds for meat or dairy in the diet can reduce the risk for heart disease as much as 45%.
Among the proven claims of the benefits of eating almonds are:
- They have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Almonds are immune system boosters.
- Being anti-hepatotoxicity, they help to prevent the destruction of vital liver cells.
- They are able to improve irritable bowel syndrome thanks to improved bowel transit.
- Diabetes protection is in the realm of almonds’ health attributes.
- Gallstone prevention has shown promise with regular intake of almonds.
With such a high prevalence of cancer in today’s society, the question must be addressed: can these superb properties of almonds also help in cancer prevention or treatment? A study conducted on rats reported in the journal, Cancer Letters, in April 2001, says yes. The entire report can be read at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11248415, but in brief, it concluded that, “Whole almond ACF and LI were both significantly lower than wheat bran and cellulose diet groups (-30 and -40%, respectively), while almond meal and almond oil ACF and almond meal LI declines were only significant vs. cellulose (P<0.05).” Of course, these alphabetic codes, to the layperson, are meaningless, but the “ACF” and “LI” tags simply refer to the degree to which the almonds were ground before being used in the experiment.
Because almonds, and other nuts, contain fairly high levels of the amino-acid L-Arginine, which can trigger or exacerbate cold sores, people suffering from facial herpes should avoid ingesting almonds during an outbreak, or take supplements of L-Lysine, the opposite amino-acid. That’s about the only negative, other than an allergy to almonds, that serves as a drawback to the otherwise excellent health benefits of almonds.
How Does Eating Almonds Benefit Cholesterol Levels?
It’s those monosaturated fats in almonds that have proven to help in lowering LDL cholesterol and reduce the chance of heart disease. What is key to this benefit is that eating almonds has proven to not only lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, but also to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It’s a win-win food!
There have been hundreds of studies on the direct benefit between almonds and improving cholesterol levels. The well-regarded, heavily reported Nurses’ Health Study in the late 1990s, suggested including nuts in the United States national food guide because the positive effects were proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. The report concluded, “These results suggest that almond consumption may reduce colon cancer risk and does so via at least one almond lipid-associated component.” The report is a detailed, fascinating read, and gives complete credence to almonds in their LDL-lowering roles. It can be read at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11122711.
Not only do almonds alone help reduce bad cholesterol, they work in tandem with an overall healthy diet to lower LDL levels; almonds combined with sensible eating are even more effective than almonds or a healthy diet alone. Such a study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, and found that almonds, plus other whole foods such as pears, beans and oats, reduced blood levels of even small, dense LDL cholesterol; this is the major enemy of cardio-vascular health. The even better news is that results were clear within just 2 weeks of the study subjects eating almonds and the other healthful foods.
Because almonds are rich in vitamin E, a known antioxidant, this also assists in reducing LDL cholesterol levels. The same is true for magnesium, a calcium channel blocker that (in sufficient quantity) improves blood flow, pushing oxygen and essential nutrients through the blood, clearing arteries and preventing disease.
Almonds are fantastic in salads, breads, cookies, cakes and even stews. Their subtle taste enables them to complement, not overpower, other ingredients. They are versatile, nutritious and heart-healthy. Among the many health benefits of almonds is lower LDL cholesterol levels, so munch a handful and enjoy a healthy, multi-purpose snack.