Almonds: Grab a Handful for Heart Health

Almonds: Grab a Handful for Heart Health

Cultures throughout history and all over the world have enjoyed the flavor and crunch of almonds. Over time, folklore spread linking almonds with health, fertility and happiness. Based on mounting scientific research, nutrition experts agree that almonds do offer more than flavor and crunch —almonds are good for heart health.

A Nutritious Nut
Almonds are tiny packages of heart healthy nutrients in a tasty, crunchy kernel. The monounsaturated fat in almonds reduces LDL cholesterol and increases the HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. They are also a good source of plant protein and dietary fiber, two nutrients that have been shown to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have been studying the combined effects of a diet that includes a variety of heart-healthy foods. Study participants ate a diet that included almonds, soy protein, margarine spreads containing plant sterols, and dietary fiber. The study found that LDL cholesterol was lowered by 29 percent for those following the heart healthy diet. This compares favorably to prescription medication that lowered cholesterol by 30 percent.

Almonds are the best nut source of vitamin E, providing the most vitamin E per serving. Just one ounce of almonds, about a handful, contains 7.3 mg of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E, the form of vitamin E the body prefers. This is about half of the Recommended Daily Allowance (15mg). Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that helps protect cells from everyday damage.

The Nut Health Claim
In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a qualified health claim for most nuts. The claim states: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Approval of this health claim was the result of an FDA review of the research related to nuts and heart health. This claim is consistent with healthy eating recommendations from the American Dietetic Association, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association.

The following nuts are included in the new claim for food labels: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts. Nut containing foods can have this claim on the food label if they meet criteria for healthful levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and contain at least the minimum amount of nuts per serving.

When eating more almonds, weight-conscious consumers should substitute them for other foods. Research has shown that when almonds are eaten in place of less nutrient-dense foods, there is no significant change in body weight. Fortunately, with six grams of protein, three grams of fiber, and heart-healthy fat, almonds are very satisfying. Keep in mind that one serving of almonds is one and a half ounces or about one-third cup.

Almonds are more than just an indulgence with taste and crunch. They can be a part of a heart healthy, weight-conscious eating plan when eaten in moderate portions. Experts agree that a handful a day of almonds may lower cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. So grab a handful for your heart.

Give snacks and meals anutrition boost with almonds

  • Choose a handful for a snack instead of cookies or chips.
  • Sprinkle them on a salad or bowl of cereal.
  • Add them to yogurt and top with fruit.
  • Toss chopped almonds into a vegetarian stir-fry.
  • Give rice and pasta dishes extra crunch.
  • Spread your almond butter on toast or a bagel.

Serves: 4

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup quick-cooking pearl barley
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 large red bell pepper, diced
¾ cup diced zucchini
½ cup slivered almonds, roasted*
1/3 cup diced scallions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in barley. Cover and reduce heat; simmer 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, place kidney beans, bell pepper, zucchini, almonds and scallions in a large salad bowl. Transfer cooked barley to colander and rinse with cold water (both to cool it down and keep it from getting sticky). Transfer cooled, drained barley to salad bowl. Add oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste; toss and serve.

Nutritional analysis:
464 calories; 18 g protein; 15 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 10 g monounsaturated fat; 3 g polyunsaturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 68 g carbohydrates; 17 g fiber; 5 mg vitamin E.

*To roast slivered, chopped or sliced almonds: Spread in an ungreased baking pan. Place in 350ºF oven and bake 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant; stir once or twice to assure even browning. Note that almonds will continue to roast slightly after removing from oven.


©2003 ADA. Reproduction of this fact sheet is permitted for educational purposes. Reproduction for sales purposes is not authorized. This fact sheet expires 10/1/2006.