by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Does eating to regain your health have to involve the latest discovery from the Amazon or the deserts of South America? Absolutely not. What you need is right on your grocer’s shelf. For example, you can go a long way toward getting your cholesterol numbers looking good and yourself feeling great simply by adding almonds to a nutritious diet. This is because almonds normalize cholesterol levels and the ratio between LDL and HDL cholesterol. And it does it without the deadly side effects of statin drugs.

But that’s just the beginning. Eating almonds provides super-strength protection against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and even weight gain and obesity.

Almonds are stars of cholesterol research

In a four week study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 46 healthy human subjects were divided into three groups. The control group ate a low saturated fat diet based on milled whole-wheat cereals and low-fat dairy foods. The second group ate the same diet and also took the statin drug Lovastatin. The third group ate a diet high in almonds plus plant sterols, non-meat protein, and fiber. LDL cholesterol decreased by 8% in the control group, 30% in the statin group, and an almost equivalent 28% in the almond group.

Another study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that heart disease risk correlates not only with cholesterol levels, but also with inflammation of blood vessels. Following a diet that includes almonds normalizes cholesterol levels and also C-reactive protein levels, a key marker of inflammation. Inflammation is hard on the heart because it increases the development of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and causes the heart to have to pump faster and harder to get its job done. In this study, the C-reactive protein levels of the almond eaters fell 24% from baseline, an amount similar to the reduction achieved by taking a statin drug, only without the life draining side effects.

Five large human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, all found that nut consumption is linked to lower risk for heart disease. Researchers studying data from the Nurses study found that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrates in an average diet resulted in a 30% reduction in heart disease risk.

Almonds protect against cardiovascular disease and diabetes

Almonds’ ability to reduce heart disease risk may also be due to the huge amounts of the antioxidant Vitamin E found in these nuts, and the LDL lowering effect of the monounsaturated fats they contain. When almonds are substituted for more traditional fats in human feeding trials, LDL cholesterol is reduced by a range of 8 to 12%.

A quarter cup of almonds contains 99mg of magnesium and 257mg of potassium. Magnesium is a natural channel blocker. When magnesium levels are high, veins and arteries relax, lessening resistance and allowing increased flow of oxygen and nutrient rich blood. Potassium is involved in nerve transmission and contraction of all muscles, including the heart. It is another mineral essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Almonds also help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes.

The Journal of Nutrition recently reported a study of 15 healthy people who each ate 5 meals with comparable amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat. The meals were designed to promote blood sugar spikes. Two meals consisted of bread only, and three meals consisted of bread, parboiled rice, and instant mashed potatoes, with the addition of almonds. Blood samples taken after each meal showed levels of blood sugar and insulin were lower following the almond meal, and levels of protective antioxidants increased. This study demonstrates the powerful anti-aging effect of almonds as well as their ability to ward off diabetes.

The more almonds eaten as part of a meal, the lower will be the glycemic index of that meal, and the smaller the rise in blood sugar levels produced by that meal.

Healthy fats in almonds promote weight loss

Nuts contain lots of fat, and many people still operate under the idea that eating fat makes people fat, so nuts are often shunned. However review of the data from the Nurses’ Health Study shows that frequent nut eaters are thinner on average than those who almost never consume nuts.

One reason nuts help with weight loss is their nutrient density. A body that is well nourished no longer craves food. The traditional American diet is so depleted of nutrients that the body continues to send hunger signals even after eating a large meal. In response to these signals, more nutrient deficient food is usually eaten and more hunger signals are sent. It is a vicious circle that leads to steady weight gain as the years go by. Eating nutrient rich almonds and other nuts breaks this vicious circle and allows for feelings of fullness and satiety to set in.

In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, researchers found that adding almonds to a low calorie diet can help overweight individuals drop pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates. Of 65 overweight participants, those who ate the almond enriched low calorie diet consumed 39% of their calories in the form of fat. Participants who ate the low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates consumed only 18% of their calories from fat. Both diets supplied the same number of calories and equivalent amounts of protein.

After six months, those on the diet that included almonds had greater reductions in weight, body fat, total body water, and systolic blood pressure. Those eating almonds had a whopping 62% greater reduction in body mass index score, 50% greater reduction in waist circumference, and 56% greater reduction in body fat compared to those on the low calorie complex carbohydrate diet. Among those with diabetes, medication reductions were sustained or further reduced in 96% in those on the almond-added diet.

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