(NaturalNews) Eating a diet rich in almonds improves blood vessel health and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study conducted by researchers from Aston University and published in the journal Free Radical Research.
"Our study confirms that almonds are a superfood," lead researcher Helen Griffiths said. "Previous studies have shown that they keep your heart healthy, but our research proves that it isn't too late to introduce them into your diet -- adding even a handful (around 50g) every day for a short period can help. You could replace a daytime snack with a bag of almonds or add them to your regular meals like porridge or muesli to help reduce your risk of heart problems."
Almonds boost antioxidant levels
The experiment was performed on healthy young and middle-aged men, as well as young men at an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease due to high blood pressure, obesity or other risk factors. The men were assigned either to continue their normal diets or to supplement their diets with a 50-gram snack of almonds daily.
After one month, men in the almond group had significantly higher levels of antioxidants in their blood, particularly the vitamin E chemical alpha-tocopherol. They also had improved blood flow and lower blood pressure. All of these changes are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
More specifically, almond consumption improved blood flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) and led to a reduction in diastolic blood pressure in all men, and also to a reduction in systolic blood pressure for the healthy men.
Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure experienced by the arteries between heartbeats, while systolic blood pressure is the pressure experienced while the heart is contracting.
No changes were seen in other cardiovascular markers, including nitrite levels, cholesterol levels (HDL and LDL), lipid levels and protein oxidation. However, men who ate almonds did experience a significant increase in their plasma alpha-tocopherol/cholesterol ratios, due to the increase in antioxidant levels.
Nuts are key to Mediterranean diet
The researchers believe that the health benefits observed come from the overall nutrient profile of almonds -- which is high in vitamin E, healthy fats, fiber, flavonoids and calcium -- rather than from any one specific nutrient. For example, vitamin E is an antioxidant that is known to protect against the development of the arterial plaques that can produce heart attacks, while fiber is known to lower cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar.
Prior studies have suggested that eating almonds can provide health benefits as diverse as improving bone health, managing blood sugar, helping to control weight, preventing hair loss and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Almonds can even reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, prevent birth defects, improve cognition (including concentration and memory) and alleviate pregnancy-related constipation.
Many of the nutrients in almonds are common to nuts in general and are believed to partially account for the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is a diet with high consumption of nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and olive oil, moderate consumption of fish and poultry, low to moderate consumption of red wine, and with yogurt and cheese as its main dairy foods. Numerous studies have linked this diet to improved cardiovascular outcomes of lower rates of heart attack and stroke. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2014 also found, for the first time, that the diet also reduces the risk of peripheral artery disease.
Evidence also suggests that the Mediterranean diet may help alleviate depression, control or prevent diabetes and help prevent other chronic health conditions such as dementia.