Almonds May Improve Cholesterol Levels

Daily consumption of almonds may increase HDL cholesterol levels.

Regularly consuming almonds may be highly beneficial to good cholesterol levels and its functionality, according to a new study published by the Journal of Nutrition. The new findings suggest that eating almonds may increase levels of HDL cholesterol, while also improving how cholesterol is removed from the body.

In the study, the authors compared the levels of HDL cholesterol in individuals who ate almonds daily to the levels in the same individuals when they consumed a muffin instead.

The authors noted that HDL cholesterol levels and functionality were significantly improved when patients consumed almonds, according to the study. These findings build on previous studies of the role almonds play in a cholesterol-lowering diet.

"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," said researcher Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD. "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 authors set out to determine whether almonds could increase HDL levels, but also if it could improve its functionality. HDL cholesterol gathers cholesterol from arteries and other tissues to transport it out of the body, according to the authors.

"HDL is very small when it gets released into circulation," Dr Kris-Etherton said. "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."

Depending on how much cholesterol is collected, HDL cholesterol can be characterized as: very small, pre-α-1 to the larger, more mature α-1. The authors hypothesized that almond consumption would increase α-1 particles, indicating improved HDL functionality.

Included in the study were 48 patients with high LDL cholesterol who participated in two 6-week diet periods. Patients consumed identical diets with the exception of the daily snack. As a control, patients received a banana muffin, while during the experiment, they received a handful of almonds.

The authors measured HDL cholesterol levels and its functionality compared with baseline measures.

The investigators found that the almond diet increased α-1 HDL, the most mature particles, by 19%, according to the study. The almond diet was also observed to improve HDL function by 6.4% in some patients.

"We were able to show that there were more larger particles in response to consuming the almonds compared to not consuming almonds," Dr 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."

An increase in α-1 HDL is significant because it has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the authors.

While almonds may not completely diminish the risk of heart disease, these findings suggest it is a smart choice for a healthy snack, according to the study. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, almonds also provide healthy fats, vitamin E, and fiber.

"If people incorporate almonds into their diet, they should expect multiple benefits, including ones that can improve heart health," Dr Kris-Etherton concluded. "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."