(NaturalHealth365) Almost weekly, it seems that researchers announce that a specific food, herb or vitamin reduces the risk of heart disease. So common are these discoveries that some people may begin to take them for granted, or, even worse, “tune them out.”
But that would be unfortunate – heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States, and claims well over half a million lives every year. To battle this deadly condition, we need every weapon at our disposal – especially in an aging population already struggling with record levels of obesity and diabetes.
Emerging research shows how to lower your risk of heart disease – easily
Almonds cut heart disease risk by significantly elevating the levels of antioxidants in your bloodstream – think of them as unleashing a sort of cavalry of disease-fighting compounds throughout your body – as well as by lowering blood pressure and helping blood flow more easily and freely through your arteries.
In a British study conducted at Aston University and newly published in Free Radical Research, researchers tested the effects of a short-term almond-enriched diet on two different groups of men: young and middle-aged men who were healthy, and young men at risk for developing heart disease due to high blood pressure or excess weight. A control group received no almonds, and ate their normal diet.
Members of the almond group, who consumed 50 grams of almonds – about a small handful’s worth – a day, had much higher levels of alpha-tocopherol, or natural vitamin E, in their blood at the end of the study than the non-almond group. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that protects cell membranes against free radical damage. The participants in the almond group also experienced improved flow-mediated dilation, making for healthier blood vessels.
The research team’s verdict? Almonds are a “superfood” – a nutrient-rich food that is particularly beneficial to health.
Almonds reduce disease-causing inflammation, and can help you “cut carbs”
For people with type-2 diabetes, the threat of heart disease and stroke is particularly dire; these conditions are primary causes of death for diabetics. In a 2014 study published in Journal of Functional Foods, researchers found that 12 weeks of almond supplementation significantly reduced levels of C-reactive protein in people with type-2 diabetes. This is significant because CRP appears in the body in response to inflammation, and is a marker for heart disease.
Simply eating a modest amount of almonds daily – without any attempt to reduce calories or increase physical activity – improved the study participants’ health. Participants were simply told to add almonds to their normal diet, without any specific guidance on what else to eat. Yet in addition to reducing inflammation, the almonds seemed to cause the group to automatically reduce their intake of carbohydrates.
A surprising benefit: Almonds and other nuts increase serotonin
In a 2011 study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research, researchers studied the effects of a daily handful of almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts on individuals with metabolic syndrome, a constellation of unhealthy conditions that includes abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.
What they found was unexpected: the mixed nuts boosted levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that decreases appetite while improving both mood and heart health.
The list of constituents in almonds reads like a “dream team” of health-promoting compounds
Considering the wide variety of beneficial nutrients in almonds, it’s not so surprising that they do what they do. Researchers report that the way these substances all work together makes them much more potent than the individual ingredients – one reason it is better to get nutrients directly from natural foods rather than isolated supplements.
Almonds are rich in antioxidant flavonoids, along with healthy monounsaturated fats such as oleic and palmitoleic acids, which lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels and raise healthy HDL cholesterol. They are also high in dietary fiber – which is known to protect against certain cancers and to help control weight – and loaded with antioxidant vitamin E.
And, each almond is a little packet of concentrated essential minerals. A 3 and ½-ounce serving contains 99 percent of the daily amount of manganese, a trace mineral needed to produce superoxide dismutase, a natural antioxidant enzyme created in the body. The same serving contains 46.5 % of the daily value of iron, needed for production of red blood cells, and 69 percent of phosphorus, essential for healthy bones. Almonds are also rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc and selenium.
Although a 3 and ½-ounce serving contains a hefty 575 calories, almonds should not be considered a “fattening” food, and shouldn’t be avoided as such. Researchers conducting the 12-week almond supplementation study specifically stated that the almonds did not cause weight gain – even though the volunteers added them to their daily diets without cutting calories in any other area.
What’s the best type of almonds to eat for heart health?
Look for raw, organic almonds, either shelled or unshelled. Avoid processed, smoked, sweetened or highly salted almonds. Shelled almonds should be a vibrant reddish brown, and be firm, uniformly shaped and intact.
Just as a side note, I love the nuts at LivingNutz.com and, no, I don’t get paid for saying that.
With their sweet, mild, nutty flavor and pleasing consistency, almonds can be enjoyed out of hand as a snack. You can also sprinkle them on salads, use them to add an elegant note to salmon and chicken recipes, stir them into pasta or oatmeal, or chop them finely and serve them as a topping for yogurt or ice cream. Another way to get the health benefits of almonds is to drink almond milk, or use almond oil.
And, by the way, almonds make a good alternate (gluten-free) fare for those with celiac disease. As with any food, an allergic reaction is possible with almonds. So, obviously, If you’re allergic to other nuts, don’t eat almonds.