Snacking on almonds instead of a high-carb snack reduced belly fat, other heart disease risk factors

January 7, 2015

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that a daily snack of 1.5 ounces of almonds instead of a high-carbohydrate muffin, eaten as part of an overall healthy diet, improved a number of heart disease risk factors in study participants.

In addition to significantly improving LDL and total cholesterol, snacking on almonds instead of muffins also reduced central adiposity (belly fat), a well-established factor.

Although heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States and worldwide, it is estimated that at least 80% of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease can be avoided if diet and lifestyle risk factors are controlled.

While a significant body of evidence has shown that eating almonds is associated with improved heart health , this is the first and largest controlled feeding study using identical diets with the exception of almonds vs. a calorie-matched to investigate and isolate the cardio-protective properties of almonds beyond their contributions to an overall heart-healthy diet. The findings are also the first of their kind to show benefits of eating almonds in reducing abdominal and leg fat. Reducing abdominal fat is particularly beneficial given its connection to metabolic syndrome and increased risk for .

The twelve-week, randomized, controlled clinical study, led by researchers at Penn State University, was conducted in 52 overweight, middle-aged adults who had high total and LDL cholesterol but were otherwise healthy. Participants ate cholesterol-lowering diets that were identical except that one group was given a daily snack of 1.5 ounces (42g) of whole natural almonds, while the other group was given a banana muffin that provided the same number of calories. Participants were provided all meals and snacks in amounts based on their calorie needs to maintain body weight, and followed each diet for six weeks.

The diet containing the almond snack, compared to the muffin snack, decreased total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol non-HDL-cholesterol and remnant lipoproteins. In addition, the diet with the muffin snack reduced HDL (good) cholesterol more than the almond diet.

Despite no differences in body weight or total fat mass, the almond diet significantly reduced abdominal fat mass, waist circumference and leg fat mass compared to the diet with the muffin snack.

"Our research found that substituting almonds for a high-carbohydrate snack improved numerous heart health risk factors, including the new finding that eating almonds reduced belly fat," says Claire Berryman, PhD and lead researcher of the study. "Choosing almonds as a snack may be a simple way to help fight the onset of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases."

This study joins nearly two decades of research showing that almonds can help maintain a healthy heart and healthy cholesterol levels3, and provides new evidence showing that regularly eating almonds instead of a high-carbohydrate snack may have benefits on body composition. Previous studies showed that regular almond consumption did not lead to significant changes in body weight, indicating that nutrient-rich almonds can be incorporated in weight-maintenance and weight-loss diets.

A one ounce serving of almonds provides 160 calories and a powerful nutrient package including hunger-fighting protein (6g), filling dietary fiber (4g), "good" unsaturated fats (13g)3 and vitamins and minerals including vitamin E (35% DV), magnesium (20% DV) and potassium (6% DV), which makes them an ideal fit for heart-healthy, weight-wise diets and an easy way to snack smarter this year.

Study Details

Design: In this randomized controlled clinical feeding study, 52 otherwise healthy adults (mean age = 49.9 years) with elevated total cholesterol (mean 227 mg/dL), LDL-cholesterol (mean 148 mg/dL) and an average body mass index of 26.3 kg/m2 were provided each of two balanced diets based on their calorie needs to maintain weight. Diets were identical except for a daily snack, which was either 1.5 oz of whole natural almonds or a banana muffin which provided an equivalent number of calories. Differences in the nutrient profiles of the control (58% CHO, 15% PRO, 26% total fat) and almond (51% CHO, 16% PRO, 32% total fat) diets were due to nutrients inherent to each snack.

Participants followed each diet for 6 weeks in a crossover design with a two week washout period in between diets. All meals and snacks were prepared and provided to participants by a metabolic kitchen, and compliance was assessed by daily weigh-ins and daily food logs. Blood work and body composition measurements (as measured by Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry scans) were taken at the start of the study and at the end of each diet period. Participant adherence to the study diets was 85% based on daily self-reporting forms, which indicated good compliance, and participant weight was maintained within 1.3 kg during the study.

Results: Both diets reduced total and LDL cholesterol from baseline, but the reduction was greater with the almond snack vs. the muffin snack. The diet containing almonds decreased total cholesterol (-5.1 ± 2.4 mg/dL; P = 0.05) and LDL (bad) cholesterol (-5.3 ± 1.9 mg/dL; P = 0.01) and non-HDL cholesterol (-6.9 + 2.4 mg/dL, p=0.01) compared to the muffin diet. In addition, the muffin diet reduced HDL (good) cholesterol versus the almond diet (-1.7 ± 0.6 mg/dL; P < 0.01). In addition, eating 1.5 oz almonds daily for 6 weeks improved LDL/HDL ratios from baseline (-0.23 ± 0.07; P = <0.0001) and reduced apoliprotein B more than the control diet. The control diet increased C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, while no increase in this marker was observed with the almond diet. There were no significant differences between the diets in measures of glucose control.

Although total body weight, total fat mass and total lean mass did not differ between diets, snacking on almonds improved the distribution of fat compared to the almond diet. Participants on the almond diet reduced total abdominal mass (-0.19 ± 0.08 kg; P = 0.02), abdominal fat mass (-0.07 ± 0.03 kg; P = 0.02), and waist circumference (-0.80 ± 0.30 cm; P = 0.02) compared to the muffin diet. Increased belly fat and waist circumference are considered risk factors for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Almond consumption also reduced leg fat mass (-0.12 ± 0.05 kg; P = 0.02).

Conclusions:

This study provides evidence that a daily snack of almonds (1.5 oz) instead of a high-carbohydrate snack, when eaten as part of an overall heart-healthy diet, beneficially affected risk favors for cardiovascular disease. In addition to improving participants' cholesterol levels, snacking on almonds instead of muffins also reduced central adiposity (belly fat) and leg fat. These findings suggest that choosing almonds as a snack may be a simple heart-smart dietary strategy to help prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease in those with elevated LDL cholesterol.

Limitations:

Researchers did not assess pre-study dietary intake and physical activity data. There was a small total body weight loss from baseline, although there were no differences between the diets. The test diets were not matched for macronutrients, limiting conclusions about the independent effect of almonds on the endpoints measured. Nonetheless, almond-delivered nutrients improved a traditional cholesterol-lowering when substituted for a high-carbohydrate snack.

Explore further: Research show almonds reduce risk of heart disease

More information: Berryman CE, West SG, Fleming JA, Bordi PL, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of Daily Almond Consumption on Cardiometabolic Risk and Abdominal Adiposity in Healthy Adults with Elevated LDL-Cholesterol: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Heart Association 2015; 4:e000993 DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.114.000993

Related Stories

Research show almonds reduce risk of heart disease

June 25, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have found that eating almonds in your diet can reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping blood vessels healthy.

Weight gain study suggests polyunsaturated oil healthier option

October 15, 2014
Short-term modest weight gains in healthy, normal weight young adults was associated with more bad cholesterol levels in those who ate muffins cooked using saturated oil. However, individuals in the same study who ate muffins ...

Childhood obesity prevention programs impact LDL-C, HDL-C

December 3, 2014
(HealthDay)—Childhood obesity prevention programs are beneficial for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published ...

Eating tree nuts results in 'modest decreases' in blood fats and sugars, survey finds

July 30, 2014
Eating tree nuts appears to help reduce two of the five markers for metabolic syndrome, a group of factors that raise the risk for heart disease and other health problems such as diabetes and strokes, a new research paper ...

Recommended for you

Moderate coffee drinking 'more likely to benefit health than to harm it', say experts

November 22, 2017
Drinking coffee is "more likely to benefit health than to harm it" for a range of health outcomes, say researchers in The BMJ today.

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tiger Nuts
not rated yet Jan 09, 2015
Yes it's a great idea to stop snacking on products that will negatively affect your health.
And almonds are one way to go, but although we could be biased, we think that our Tiger Nuts are more than equal. You see Tiger Nuts have more fiber (three times) and less fats and calories, and they are 100% NUT FREE too!

Tiger Nuts are also 100% Gluten Free, 100% Organic, 100% Allergen Free, 100% Dairy Free, High in Fiber, Low in Calories & Fats, High in Nutrition, Non GMO, and they taste great, like coconut!

Tiger Nuts are probably the "Healthiest single source' snack food on the market" and you can find them at tigernutsusa dot com and fine health food stores across the country.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.