High cholesterol? Go nuts!

Researchers at the Lorna Linda University in California report that people who replaced 20% of their energy intake with almonds had a markedly improved cholesterol reading. The study compared the effects of a popular cholesterol control diet (Step 1), which restricts the total fat intake to 30% of daily calories, saturated fat to 10%, and dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day, with two other diets including almonds. One was a low-almond diet (replacing 10% of total energy with the nuts) and a high-almond diet (where nuts made up 20% of total energy).

In the randomized trial, 25 healthy adults with slightly raised cholesterol levels, aged 41 on average, were fed the three diets for four weeks each. The researchers found that the more almonds people ate, the higher the reduction of cholesterol levels. Compared with the Step I diet, the high-almond diet reduced total cholesterol by 4.4%, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 7% and increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 1.7%.

The researchers also found that despite the addition of almonds to the diet, participants maintained their weight.

“In addition to reducing LDL cholesterol, the high-almond diet also illustrated decreases in the risk factors of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr Joan Sabate, the study’s lead author. “While the monounsaturated fats in almonds are beneficial for heart health, our research also found that other nutrients in almonds may reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors as well.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 77, No. 6, 1379-1384, June 2003