Almonds are taking their place next to soy on the heart healthy platform and making moves to step up to a loftier dais. In July 2003, the FDA issued a qualified health claim stating, “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5oz. 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.” Almonds are cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and a great source of fiber. They also are high in monounsaturated fat, which can help lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and maintain “good” cholesterol.

According to researchers at the University of Toronto, a dietary plan that includes a combination of almonds, plant sterols, soy protein and viscous fiber is as effective in lowering cholesterol as is taking a starting dose of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Patients following this dietary approach, known as the “Portfolio Eating Plan,” lowered their LDL cholesterol up to 32% and, on average, 29% in four weeks.

However, heart disease is not the only thing researchers hope almonds will reduce. Epidemiological data show nut eaters tend to have a lower BMI. A six-month study by Wein, et al. (see sidebar) put 65 overweight and obese adults--70% of whom had type 2 diabetes--on one of two diets designed for weight loss. The calorie count and protein levels of both diets were equivalent, but the first group had a higher percentage of total fat and fat from monounsaturated fatty acids. After 24 weeks, patients on the moderate-fat diet containing almonds had achieved a greater reduction in BMI weight, waist circumference, fat mass and systolic blood pressure. Both groups experienced lower glucose and insulin levels. These results were consistent with other research linking almond consumption with weight regulation.

Almonds, which consistently are ranked as American's favorite nut, also are positively associated with reducing the risk of many other medical ailments. Researchers from Tufts University (Boston) found that a class of phytochemicals (called polyphenols) from almond skins interacts synergistically with the vitamin E in almonds to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation. Individuals with high levels of oxidized LDL are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. The protection against oxidation by almond polyphenols and vitamin E together was significantly greater than when either nutrient was tested alone.

Almonds are the best source of the antioxidant vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol, and are a leading source of magnesium, protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and iron. Moreover, almonds and other nuts contain phytochemicals--plant components that may provide powerful protection against heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.

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Almond Board of California, Karen Lapsley