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The Beat Goes On: New Research Continues to Show Almonds' Valuable Role in Heart Health

SAN DIEGO, California, Apr 05, 2008 (PR Newswire Europe via COMTEX) -- Research Presented at the International Experimental Biology Meeting Provides Insights as to Why Almonds May Help Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease Beyond Their Valuable Role in Lowering Cholesterol

Looking for foods that can help reduce the risk of heart disease? Consider the latest almond nutrition research presented at the annual Experimental Biology meeting. This research highlights a number of reasons almonds, beyond their cholesterol-lowering effect, play an integral role in heart health. And, new research shows they even have potential to improve gut health - indicating almonds are a simple snack choice that can make a healthy difference.

Two new studies provide evidence to support the cholesterol-lowering effects of almonds. The first study examined the long-term effects of the Portfolio Eating Plan, a dietary approach to lowering cholesterol that combines a number of heart-healthy foods such as almonds and soy, in the same diet. After three years, subjects who closely followed the approach (greater than 75% compliance) reduced their LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol levels, by an average of 24 percent - a significant and clinically meaningful reduction.

The second study looked at the impact of almonds alone on cholesterol levels. The study found that subjects who ate 20 percent of their calories from almonds for 16 weeks lowered their LDL levels by nine percent, compared to a one percent reduction in those following a nut-free diet. Further, those eating almonds increased their HDL, or "good," cholesterol levels.

"Science continues to evolve on the powerful health benefits of foods, and these new studies provide further evidence for almonds' ability to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease," said Cyril Kendall, PhD, research scientist at the University of Toronto. "Other research is showing almonds may improve glucose control, decrease oxidative damage, and decrease triglyceride levels, all of which may contribute to their heart health benefits."

Looking Beyond Cholesterol

Almond consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and their effect on cholesterol is only a partial explanation. Three other new studies provide insight on other likely factors.

Almonds may lower the amount of insulin the body releases. High blood sugar and insulin levels can raise the risk of heart disease by causing damage to blood vessel walls. Previous research has indicated that almonds may be able to decrease blood sugar levels after a meal. A new longer-term study from researchers at the University of Toronto looked further at this phenomenon. Subjects who ate a daily snack of almonds - approximately 37 grammes or 73 grammes - did not have to produce as much insulin as subjects who did not eat almonds. (A typical recommended serving of almonds is 28 grammes).

The antioxidants in almonds may play a role in reducing oxidative damage. Oxidized LDL cholesterol is known to increase the risk of heart disease. However, studies suggest antioxidants from foods, such as almonds, may help prevent LDL oxidation. Almonds contain levels of antioxidants (vitamin E and phenolics) in amounts similar to certain fruits and vegetables, and a previous study has shown the antioxidants in almonds can reduce LDL oxidation. New research continues to support this finding. Using the same subjects from the insulin study and the same amount of almonds, researchers found that subjects eating a daily almond snack had reduced markers of oxidative damage.

The fat in almonds is released slowly. A rise in blood fat levels, or triglycerides, after a meal poses a risk for heart disease; however, slow release and digestion of fats from foods may reduce triglycerides. Researchers at King's College London in the UK have been looking at the release of fat from almonds and, most recently, how eating different forms of almonds affects changes in blood triglyceride levels. The study found that eating a meal containing whole almonds reduced triglyceride levels significantly as compared to a meal without them, suggesting the structure of almonds releases fat slowly and therefore causes a lower rise in triglyceride levels.

Looking Beyond Heart Health: Almonds' Potential as a Prebiotic

Research is increasingly showing the importance of maintaining a healthy gut, and including foods with pre- and probiotics is proving to be one way this can be achieved. Probiotics are found naturally in or added to foods and deliver good bacteria to the gut. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible parts of plant foods. But, the occurrence of good bacteria in the gut, including those delivered by probiotics, helps the body digest these compounds. When they do, it results in the release of other healthful substances that may help to contribute to a stronger immune system and an overall healthier gut.

Researchers at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich tested the prebiotic effects of several different forms of almonds (finely ground, defatted ground, and raw and blanched almond skins). All forms except the defatted ground almonds showed prebiotic effects. When compared to fructo-oligosaccharide, a prebiotic found in certain fruits and vegetables, the prebiotic effects of almonds were comparable.

Together the studies being presented at Experimental Biology demonstrate the many health benefits of almonds. So, whether looking to lower cholesterol, improve heart health, or improve gut health, a daily handful of almonds is a healthy habit to develop.

A recommended serving of almonds (about a handful or 23 almonds) is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium and offers protein, fibre, heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron. Not only are almonds a simple choice with a positive impact on health -- they also add great taste and crunch to any meal or snack.

For More Information

For additional information about almonds, including easy recipes and snack ideas, visit http://www.AlmondsAreIn.com.

Attention, Editors:

References to the new studies presented at EB are located at http://www.AlmondsAreIn.com/newsreferences.

Contact Vicky Anderson at vicky.anderson@porternovelli.co.uk or +44(0)20-7853-2210 to obtain:

- An expert interview with Dr. Cyril Kendall, University of Toronto.

- Photos of a handful of almonds.

- Easy, healthy almond recipes, along with full-colour recipe photos.

The Almond Board of California administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture. Established in 1950, the Board's charge is to promote the best quality almonds, California's largest tree nut crop. For more information on the Almond Board of California or almonds, visit http://www.AlmondsAreIn.com.

Copyright © 2008 PR Newswire Europe

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