Almonds Are a Girl's - And Guy's - Best Friend
Mon Aug 19, 4:05 PM ET
By Janice Billingsley
HealthScoutNews Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthScoutNews) -- The phrase "nuts to you" has taken on a much more positive meaning.



Two-and-a-half ounces of almonds daily can lower your cholesterol by as much as 12 percent, says research just released by the University of Toronto.

In a three-month study of 27 patients with an average high-cholesterol level of 260 milligrams per deciliter of blood, doctors found that eating 73 grams of raw, unblanched almonds a day, the equivalent of "two small fistfuls," caused a significant reduction in cholesterol, says study author Cyril W.C. Kendall.

"We saw a nice dose response," he says. "With only a few ounces of nuts, there was a good effect."

Further, while the nuts contained approximately 400 calories, the patients experienced no weight gain.

"When people ate the almonds, they had a satiating effect, so they cut down on other foods," he says.

The results appear in tomorrow's issue of Circulation.

Approximately 100 million Americans, or one-third of the population, have a combined cholesterol count of more than 200, which is considered a marker for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association ( news - web sites). Of that group, 41 million people are at high risk for these diseases because their cholesterol is more than 240.

Nuts are one of the latest foods getting attention for helping to lower cholesterol, says Purdue University nutrition professor Richard Mattes.

"This same cholesterol-lowering effect has been shown with a wide array of nuts, including walnuts, peanuts and macadamia nuts," he says. "That eating nuts lowers cholesterol and triglycerides while weight doesn't go up has been consistently found in studies for about five years. The results have been remarkably clear."

In the University of Toronto study, which was funded by the Almond Board of California and the Canadian government, 27 high-cholesterol patients, who ranged in age from 48 to 86, participated in three, monthlong diets to measure the cholesterol-lowering effect of two different levels of almond consumption. In the third month they ate, for comparison, a diet with a whole wheat muffin that had the same amount of protein, calories and mix of fats as the almonds.

The subjects, all of whom were on a heart-healthy diet given to them by doctors, had their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and weight measured at the start of each diet, and at two and four weeks of each diet.

Researchers found that after a month of eating only 37 grams of almonds daily, patients had reduced their LDL or "bad" cholesterol by an average of 4.4 percent. After a month of eating a full dose of almonds, 73 grams, their LDL cholesterol had dropped by an average of 9.4 percent. Cholesterol levels didn't drop significantly after eating muffins for a month.

At the same time, the HDL, or "good," cholesterol of the patients increased slightly when they ate the almonds, Kendall says.

Because HDL cholesterol helps rid the body of LDL cholesterol, an increased HDL level reduces risk for cardiovascular disease. So when the patients' ratio of HDL to LDL was measured, the overall reduction of cholesterol increased to 7.8 percent during the half-dose phase of the almond diet, and to 12 percent during the 73-gram phase of the almond diet.

There was no reduction in their blood pressure levels, Kendall says.

"Diet can have a major impact on cholesterol levels," Kendall says. "If you combine a number of therapies, including almonds, soy protein and soluble fiber, you can reduce LDL by as much as 30 percent."

What To Do

While this study adds to a growing pile of evidence that eating nuts has a number of health benefits, it might be a good idea to make sure you and other family members don't have an allergic reaction. Almonds can cause major problems for those who have an intolerance. Check with your doctor if you don't know whether you have an allergy.

A review of some of the studies outlining the benefits of eating nuts can be found at Christ Church Hospital, New Zealand. For a story of how one couple lost weight and reduced their cholesterol levels, you can visit the American Heart Association.

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