There are different kinds of cholesterol, and they have different effects on the body. While it’s been known that almonds could help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, new work indicates almonds may also help raise levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. In a study comparing people that ate almonds every day to a group that had a muffin instead, levels and functionality of good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) were improved in the group that ate almonds. This work has been reported in the Journal of Nutrition and is outlined in the following video.
“There's a lot of research out there that shows a diet that includes almonds lowers low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease,” noted Penny Kris-Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State. “But not as much was known about how almonds affect HDL cholesterol, which is considered good cholesterol and helps lower your risk of heart disease.”
The researcher wanted to determine whether almonds not only raised the level of HDL but also made it more effective. It acts to harvest cholesterol from the arteries and tissues, helping to move it out of the body.
“HDL is very small when it gets released into circulation,” Kris-Etherton explained. “It’s 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.” HDL also gets categorized based on how much cholesterol it has collected.
The groups range from tiny preβ-1 to large and mature α-1 particles. The levels of each group was assessed in the participants. For those on the almond diet, α-1 HDL was raised by 19 percent. In participants of normal weight, HDL function was improved by around six percent.
The study followed 48 people over two six-week intervals, with one group eating about a handful of almonds instead of the banana muffin received by the other group.
“We were able to show that there were more larger particles in response to consuming the almonds compared to not consuming almonds,” Kris-Etherton said. “That would translate to the smaller particles doing what they're supposed to be doing. They're going to tissues and pulling out cholesterol, getting bigger, and taking that cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body.”
Kris-Etherton believes this to be significant because these α-1 particles have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although almonds cannot eliminate the risk of heart disease, Kris-Etherton said, they might be a good option for healthy snacking. Other than the heart benefits, she said, almonds also provide some nutrients like vitamin E and fiber as well as healthy fats.
“If people incorporate almonds into their diet, they should expect multiple benefits, including ones that can improve heart health,” Kris-Etherton suggested. “They’re not a cure-all, but when eaten in moderation — and especially when eaten instead of a food of lower nutritional value — they're a great addition to an already healthy diet.”
It’s worth mentioning, however, that this study was supported by The Almond Board of California.