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A Handful of Almonds Pack a Punch

The New Straits Times

12-01-08

WHAT is the healthiest snack you can eat? What if this snack has also been proven to help reduce your risk of heart disease? Even better, it would help curb hunger pangs and even help reduce weight.

Some interesting new research suggests the very best food you can nibble in between meals - and especially after a meal - is the almond nut.

Actually all form of nuts qualify though much of the research seems to focus on almonds.

Indeed, even a modest daily intake of no more than 73gm - or around three ounces - can dramatically reduce "bad" low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.

Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health- promoting fats as are found in olive oil, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease.

Five large human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Health Study, the Adventist Health Study and the Physicians Health Study, all found that nut consumption lowers risk of heart disease.

Researchers who studied data from the Nurses Health Study estimated that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in heart disease risk.

Researchers calculated even more impressive risk reduction - 45 per cent - when fat from nuts was substituted for saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products).

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition indicates that when foods independently known to lower cholesterol, such as almonds, are combined in a healthy way of eating, the beneficial effects are additive.

In this study of 12 patients with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, a diet containing almonds and other nuts, plant sterols (also found in nuts), soy protein, and soluble fibre (in high amounts in beans, oats, pears) reduced blood levels of all LDL fractions including small dense LDL (the type that most increases risk for cardiovascular disease) with near maximal reductions seen after only two weeks.

In addition to their cholesterol-lowering effects, almonds' ability to reduce heart disease risk may also be partly due to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found in the almonds, as well as to the LDL-lowering effect of almonds' monounsaturated fats.

(LDL is the form of cholesterol that has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease).

When almonds are substituted for more traditional fats in human feeding trials, LDL cholesterol can be reduced from eight to 12 per cent.

In addition to healthy fats and vitamin E, a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 99mg of magnesium (that's 24.7 per cent of the daily value for this important mineral), plus 257mg of potassium.

Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart.

Potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles, including the heart, is another mineral that is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function.

Almonds promote your cardiovascular health by providing 257mg of potassium and only 0.3mg of sodium, making almonds an especially good choice to protect against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

It seems that it can also lower the body's insulin output. In fact, it is full of fibres that help feed the bacteria in your colon.

These fibres also help prevent constipation. It is also easy to digest. Almond can actually help your gut stay healthy.

These good effects can be seen after just four months of eating almonds every day, new research has discovered.

Although the health-giving effects of almonds have been known for some time, the new research underpins just how good almonds can be for us.

Two new studies, presented to the Experimental Biology conference, discovered that eating almonds every day reduced LDL cholesterol levels by 24 per cent, while three further studies have shown that almonds can reduce the body's production of insulin, especially if the nuts are eaten immediately after a meal.

Eat almonds whole and raw. Soak a handful of raw almonds overnight. They become soft and are easy to chew the morning after. It's a healthy way to start your day.

Results from new research on almonds adds to the growing evidence that eating whole foods is the best way to promote optimal health.

The flavonoids found in almond skins team up with the vitamin E found in their meat to more than double the antioxidant punch either delivers when administered separately, shows a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Twenty potent antioxidant flavonoids were identified in almond skins in this study, some of which are well known as major contributors to the health benefits derived from other foods, such as the catechins found in green tea, and naringenin found in grapefruit.

* Datuk Dr Rajen M. is a pharmacist with a doctorate in holistic medicine. Email him at health@po.jaring.my

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