Nuts for almonds

Snacking is a booming category for product launches, with the number of snack launches increasing by an average of 17 per cent each year since 2010, according to Innova Market Insights. There has been strong growth of natural snacking product launches, driven by increasing demand for healthy bars and snack nuts, such as almonds.

Almonds are appreciated throughout the world for their taste, texture and nutritional value. Recent scientific studies have found further evidence of the varied benefits of the nutritious, healthy tree nuts as consumers are increasingly looking for more natural and health-based foods. Almonds provide a healthy, versatile and value oriented solution for almost any new product.

Snacks and snacking occasions have increased over the years. In 2014, the snacks category recorded the highest growth in global new product introductions (30 per cent), compared to all other food categories.

There is great potential for companies looking at almonds for new snack launches.
Some of the primary reasons are their versatility and added value as snacks and inclusions. Almonds are a natural source of protein and are high in fibre, while being naturally low in sugar. When compared gram for gram, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein, fibre, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin and are among the lowest in calories. The protein level is significantly above that of most other tree nuts at 6g per 30g serving [2]. The vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) level of almonds is 7.7mg per 30g, while almost all other tree nuts have levels below 1mg.

Almonds also complement a wide array of food flavours and applications, including confectionery, bakery, dairy and prepared foods. Available in more forms than any other nut – natural, blanched, whole, sliced, slivered, chopped, diced or ground – almonds are easy to incorporate into a variety of formulations. This versatility also makes almonds ideal for convenience snacking, which has jumped 58 per cent since 2010.

Products that convey the message to eat on-the-go are often positioned as healthy alternatives to meals, with higher levels of protein and fibre claims. These are among the top five claims experiencing growth when compared to last year.

Nutritional research – an increased priority

 For the Almond Board of California (ABC), research remains paramount and has been the chief source of a progressive range of advances made over the years. ABC has invested more than $20 million in sound science to better understand the human health effects of almonds, particularly on heart health, diabetes and weight management, which has resulted in over 120 scientific publications. In addition, the nutrition research programme explores opportunities overseas, including Europe and emerging markets such as India and China. Several almond related studies have been presented recently, providing insights about the effects of almond consumption on satiety, overall diet quality, glycaemic control and brain activity.

The role of almonds in satiety

A strong nutritional benefit of almonds is their role in satiety. Appetite control is an area of weight management that is receiving increased attention as the food industry aims to provide consumers with foods that will keep them feeling fuller for longer, reducing inter-meal hunger and overall energy intake. Manufacturers are responding to this interest and the number of product launches with satiety claims has surged by 106 per cent since 2010.

The satiety angle is increasingly used across categories and more fibre and protein content claims are made, whereas low fat and low calorie claims are observed less. The combination of protein, fibre and healthy fats makes almonds a very satiating snack.

A new study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that a mid morning snack of almonds helped control appetite and resulted in reduced calorie intake by the participants during the rest of the day. The study had a randomised crossover design, meaning that each participant completed all three interventions – 0g almonds, 28g almonds and 42g almonds. Despite eating 170 or 260 calories (~1-1.5 28g servings) from almonds as a mid morning snack (depending on portion), there were no significant differences in total daily energy intake between any of the groups, indicating that participants compensated for the almond calories consumed, whether they had one serving or 1.5 servings.

“We expected whole almonds to be a food that provides satiety because they are a natural source of protein and are high in fibre. However, it was interesting to see the mid morning snack provided a long lasting effect on appetite at dinner time consumption, not only at lunchtime,” said Sarah Hull, MSc, lead researcher of the study.

Fibre NPD and glucose control

Four platforms are driving new product development with fibre claims – lowering blood cholesterol for heart health, weight management, feeding beneficial gut bacteria for gut/digestive health and managing blood glucose levels for glycaemic control. Almonds are also an excellent source of antioxidant vitamin E, riboflavin and magnesium, which is an emerging nutrient of interest. Low blood levels of magnesium have been associated with metabolic syndrome; type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated c-reactive protein.

Almond consumption was shown to be beneficial for glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes in a randomised, cross over, controlled feeding trial conducted by a team of researchers in Taiwan. The study examined the effects of eating 60g of almonds per day, compared to an isocaloric control diet without almonds on glucose control and CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk factors in 33 Chinese adults with type 2 diabetes. There were no differences in risk factors observed in the full group of 33 participants, but differences were observed in the 21 patients that complied with the treatment. Among 17 of these 21 patients, the diet with almonds decreased post-study fasting by 4 per cent and fasting glucose by 11 per cent as compared to the control diet.

Improved diet quality

The most recent study has found that adding a moderate amount of almonds to the family diet (42g/day of whole almonds or almond butter for parents, 14g/day for children) significantly improves overall diet quality and modulated intestinal microbiota composition in study participants. It is the first study of its kind investigating the effects of dietary change on digestive health and immune function in parent-child pairs.

When parents and children ate almonds, their overall diet quality improved, as measured by increased Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores, a US standard measure of adherence to recommended dietary guidance. Although this is a US index, it does show a relative change in diet quality that may be comparable in other geographies.

“The findings suggest that participants replaced some of their empty calorie snacks with almonds, which has important implications since snacking has become so prevalent,” says Wendy Dahl, PhD, RD, associate professor at the University of Florida and contributing researcher on the study.

Conclusion

These areas of research highlight fascinating aspects of the variety of potential uses for almonds and their beneficial impact. This is the case for almonds as a snack or an ingredient in a wide range of product categories. Awareness and usage statistics show that consumers are increasingly valuing the health benefits of almonds as well as the taste and sensory properties.

This integrated and interdisciplinary research conducted across various locations results in an expanding body of evidence for the nutritional value and versatility of almonds. Manufacturers are also realising this, as can be seen in the continual increase of new product introductions with almonds. In fact, almond new product introductions have jumped 148 per cent since 2005. The nutritional benefits assist with differentiating products in the crowded marketplace, to the benefit of both consumers and manufacturers alike.

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