Eating almonds on a regular basis may help increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol while simultaneously improving the way it removes cholesterol from the body, according to researchers from Penn State.
In the study, researchers compared the levels and function of high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) in people who ate almonds every day, to the HDL levels and function of the same group of people when they ate a muffin instead. The researchers found that while participants were on the almond diet, their HDL levels and functionality improved.
These findings build on previous research on the effects of almonds on cholesterol-lowering diets.
Plenty of research shows a diet that includes almonds lowers “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease." But less is known about how almonds affect HDL cholesterol, which the good cholesterol thought to help lower the risk of heart disease.
How HDL cholesterol may guard against heart disease
The Penn State researchers wanted to see if almonds could not just increased the level of HDL, but also improved the function of HDL cholesterol.
HDL works by gathering cholesterol from tissues, like the arteries, and helping to transport it out of the body. HDL is like a garbage bag that slowly gets bigger and more spherical as it gathers cholesterol from cells and tissues before depositing them in the liver to be broken down.
Depending on how much cholesterol it has collected, HDL cholesterol is categorized into five categories, which range from the very small to the larger, more mature HDL particles.
An increase in large HDL cholesterol has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
About the study
In the controlled-feeding study, 48 men and women with high levels of LDL cholesterol participated in two six-week diet periods. In both, their diets were identical except for the daily snack. On the almond diet, participants received 43 grams (about a handful) of almonds a day. During the control period, they received a banana muffin instead.
At the end of each diet period, the researchers measured the levels and function of each participant's HDL blood cholesterol. The researchers then compared the results to the participants' baseline measurements taken at the beginning of the study.
Almond snack increased HDL size by 19%
The researchers found that compared to the control diet (e.g., the muffin snack), the almond diet increased HDL to their largest size and most mature stage by 19 percent. The almond diet also improved HDL function by 6.4 percent, in participants of normal weight.
The fact the study showed that were more larger HDL particles in response to eating almonds compared to not eating them suggests that the smaller HDL particles were doing what they're supposed to be doing. In other words, they’re going to tissues and pulling out cholesterol, getting bigger, and taking that cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body.
Almonds won’t eliminate the risk of heart disease, but they’re a smart choice for a healthy snack. In addition to their heart-healthy fats, almonds also provide vitamin E and fibre.
The Almond Board of California supported this study.
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