(NaturalNews) If you want to steer clear of the devastating side effects of statin drugs and still get your cholesterol numbers looking good, eating almonds may be just the right choice. Studies have shown that eating a nutritious diet that includes almonds sends LDL numbers plummeting. And there's more. Eating almonds provides super strength protection against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and even weight gain and obesity.
Almonds are stars of cholesterol research
In a four week study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 46 healthy human subjects were divided into three groups. The control group ate a low saturated fat diet based on milled whole-wheat cereals and low-fat dairy foods. The second group ate the same diet and also took the statin drug lovastatin. The third group ate a diet high in almonds plus plant sterols, non-meat protein and fiber. LDL cholesterol decreased by 8 percent in the control group, 30 percent in the statin group, and 28 percent in the almond group.
Another study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that heart disease risk correlates not only with cholesterol levels, but also with inflammation of blood vessels. Following a diet that includes almonds effectively lowers not only LDL cholesterol levels but also C-reactive protein levels, a key marker of inflammation. Inflammation is hard on the heart because it increases the development of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and causes the heart to have to pump faster and harder to get its job done.
In this study, 34 people followed a dietary plan, called the Portfolio Eating Plan, which included almonds. In this group, C-reactive protein levels fell 24 percent from baseline, an amount similar to the reduction achieved by taking a statin drug, only without the life draining side effects of taking the drug.
Another study examining this same group and reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when directly compared to first-generation statin drugs, the Portfolio Eating Plan diet with its emphasis on almonds is just as effective in lowering LDL cholesterol below the recommended range for heart disease prevention.
Five large human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, all found that nut consumption is linked to lower risk for heart disease. Researchers studying data from the Nurses study found that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30 percent reduction in heart disease risk. They found a 45 percent reduction when fat from nuts was substituted for saturated fats.
Almonds protect against cardiovascular disease and diabetes
Almond's ability to reduce heart disease risk may also be due to the huge amounts of the antioxidant vitamin E found in these nuts, and the LDL lowering effect of the monounsaturated fats they contain. When almonds are substituted for more traditional fats in human feeding trials, LDL cholesterol is reduced from 8 to 12 percent.
A quarter cup of almonds contains 99 mg of magnesium and 257 mg of potassium. Magnesium is a natural channel blocker. When magnesium levels are high, veins and arteries relax, lessening resistance and allowing increased flow of oxygen and nutrient rich blood. Potassium is involved in nerve transmission and contraction of all muscles including the heart. It is another mineral essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Almonds help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent free radical producing insulin spikes.
The Journal of Nutrition reports a study of 15 healthy people who ate 5 meals with comparable amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Two meals consisted of bread only. Three meals consisted of almonds, bread, parboiled rice, and instant mashed potatoes. Blood samples taken after each meal showed levels of blood sugar and insulin were lower following the almond meal, and levels of protective antioxidants increased. This study demonstrates the powerful anti-aging effect of almonds as well as their ability to ward off diabetes.
The more almonds eaten as part of a meal, the lower will be the glycemic index of that meal, and the smaller the rise in blood sugar levels produced by that meal. The benefit of eating almonds is dose dependent.
Nuts contain lots of fat, and many people still operate under the idea that fat makes you fat, so nuts are often sunned. However, review of the data from the Nurses' Health Study shows that frequent nut eaters are thinner on average than those who almost never consume nuts.
One reason nuts help with weight loss is their nutrient density. A body that is well nourished no longer craves food. The traditional American diet is so depleted of the nutrients needed by the body that the body continues to send hunger signals. In response to these signals, more nutrient deficient food is eaten and more hunger signals are sent. It is a vicious circle that leads to steady weight gain as the years go by. Eating nutrient rich almonds and other nuts breaks this vicious circle allowing for the feelings of fullness and satiety to set in.
In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, researchers found that adding almonds to a low calorie diet can help overweight individuals drop pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates. Of 65 overweight participants, those that ate the almond enriched low calorie diet consumed 39% of their calories in the form of fat. Participants that ate the low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates consumed only 18% of their calories from fat. Both diets supplied the same number of calories and equivalent amounts of protein.
After six months, those on the almond added diet had greater reductions in weight, body fat, total body water, and systolic blood pressure. Those eating almonds had a 62 percent greater reduction in body mass index score, 50 percent greater reduction in waist circumference, and 56 percent greater reduction in body fat compared to those on the low calorie complex carbohydrate diet. Among those with diabetes, medication reductions were sustained or further reduced in 96% of those on the almond added diet.
A study reported in an WHFood's article on almonds, involving 8865 adults found that those who ate nuts at least two times per week were 31% less likely to gain weight than were those who never or seldom at them.
The British Journal of Nutrition reports a study of 43 men and 38 women whose normal eating patterns were observed for 6 months. They were then told to eat about 2 ounces or one-quarter cup of almonds daily with no other instructions. They were then followed for another 6 months at the end of which researchers found their intake of monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vegetable protein, vitamin E, copper and magnesium significantly increased. Their intake of trans fatty acids, animal protein, sodium, cholesterol and sugars significantly decreased.
Almonds are a good source of cancer preventing laetrile
The 1990's Adventist Health Study of a large population of California Seven Day Adventists found that eating nuts was one of the four top factors for extending longevity. These beneficial effects were found for men, women, vegetarians, meat-eaters, fatter, people, thinner people, the old, the young, and those who exercised and those who did not.
One of the likely reasons behind this finding is the high levels of laetrile contained in almonds. Laetrile, otherwise known as vitamin B-17, is a cancer cure that corruption has prevented from reaching the U.S. market. Commercial preparations of laetrile are obtained from the kernels of apricots, peaches and almonds. Its active ingredient, amygdaline, comes from the Greek word for almond. Laetrile has persisted as a known cancer fighter since the 2nd century A.D.
Almonds have prebiotic properties
Recently published work by the Institute of Food Research has identified potential prebiotic properties of almonds that could help improve digestive health by encouraging gut bacteria to flourish. A healthy and abundant population of friendly bacteria in the gut form part of the body's defense against harmful bacteria and are part of the body's immune system. Prebiotics are non-digestible parts of foods that are able to get through the upper part of the intestine without being digested or absorbed.
The California Almond Board sponsored a study to subject almonds to the same conditions experienced in the stomach and small intestine. They then added the digested almonds in vitro to mimic the bacterial fermentation in the large intestine and monitored its effect on the population of intestinal bacteria. The study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found that finely ground almonds significantly increased the levels of beneficial bacteria. This effect was not seen when the fat content was removed from the almond preparation, suggesting that the beneficial bacteria used the almond lipids for growth, thus making it the basis of the prebiotic effect of almonds.
Almonds have even more nutrients and benefits
Almonds are high in trace minerals that are essential cofactors for production of superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the body's endogenous antioxidants. SOD works in the mitochondria, the cellular furnace, to keep down free radicals that interfere with cellular energy production. Almonds are also good sources of the B vitamins necessary for recycling of another endogenous antioxidant, glutathione.
Studies have shown that eating nuts can lower the risk of developing gallstones by 25 percent. It helps prevent dementia, advanced macular degeneration, and stroke.
Getting maximum nutrition from almonds
Almonds right off the store shelf are better than no almonds, but they can be difficult to digest and eating too many may stress your pancreas. Almonds like all nuts contain phytate, nature's way of making sure the nut survives the winter to sprout in the spring. To gain maximum nutrition and digestibility from almonds, it's best to soak them before they are eaten. Almonds are one of only a few nuts that will actually sprout when soaked. Soaking neutralizes the phytate and allows the nutrients from the nut to be released.
Start with fresh, completely unprocessed almonds and soak them in water with a pinch of sea salt for about 12 hours. Then dry them at a temperature that does not exceed 105 degrees F. Be sure they are completely dried before putting them away. There are several good sources online for buying nuts suitable for sprouting.
Go nuts with almonds
Almonds make a great snack for adults and kids. Almond butter makes a delicious breakfast spread on warm toast, or a nourishing lunchbox centerpiece stuffed into celery ribs. Kids love almond butter and fruit sandwiches. Sprouted almonds are crispy and crunchy, making them a super addition to salads, casseroles, pasta, vegetables, and meats. Add cinnamon or other herbs and spices to sprouted almonds to turn up their nutritional level even higher. Add almonds to Chinese dishes and rice. Coat them with honey, or shoyu and roll in herbs, spices or raw cacao. Use your imagination.
Press Release, Almond Board of California.
Diet May Lower Cholesterol As Much As Statins, Medscape.
Mary Larado, The Laetrile Saga, Part 1, naturalnews.com.
Prebiotic Potential of Almonds, ScienceDaily.
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.