Focus: Three key Kings College London studies find notable benefits from almond snacking
A series of research studies led by researchers King’s College London suggests that snacking on almonds not only improves LDL cholesterol levels but may also improve vascular health – and is associated with a better diet quality, lower BMI and waist circumference, which has been welcomed by the key US-based industry body, the Almond Board of California
Major findings from the first study found that snacking on almonds – which have become increasingly used within chocolate confectionery, improved endothelial function by a measure called flow mediated dilation (FMD), which is a key indicator of vascular health.
Co-leader of the study, Dr. Wendy Hall, comments: “This study shows that eating almonds in place of the typical snacks that many of us consume (such as crisps, biscuits and pastries) is beneficial for our heart health by reducing levels of bad LDL-cholesterol and improving the health of our arteries. Based on existing data on risk of cardiovascular disease, we predict that replacing typical snacks with almonds in the long term would result in a 30% reduction in the adjusted relative risk of a cardiovascular event.”
Adjusted relative risk is the probability of an event happening to a person compared to another person who does not take a step towards disease prevention, such as making a diet change.
Furthermore, the second study found that almond consumers in the UK have lower waist circumference and lower BMI – both modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease – and have better diet quality, compared with people who do not consume almonds.
There were no differences between almond consumers and non-consumers with regards to other CVD risk factors. The almond eaters ate on average 5g/day of almonds, which is lower than the daily recommended serving of 30g. Previous research found there is a dose response with almonds, suggesting a greater benefit to cholesterol levels could be achieved when consuming a higher quantity of almonds, closer to the daily recommended serving.
The almond eaters had higher reported intakes of protein, total fat, monounsaturated, omega-3 and omega-6 fats, fibre, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. Further, they had lower intakes of trans-fatty acids, total carbohydrate, sugar and sodium. The findings suggest that UK adults with healthier dietary patterns are more likely to eat almonds.
Finally, a third study conducted by researchers at King’s College London measured heart rate variability (HRV), which is an important indicator of the cardiovascular system’s response to stress and it is thought that lifestyle factors including physical activity and diet might impact HRV.
Study participants underwent a mental stress challenge and saw improved measures of HRV in those participants eating almonds, instead of typical British snacks, over a six-week period.
Stress not only impacts us mentally, but also physically, with many people experiencing stress all over their body. The study investigated the impact that mental stress has on the body, discovering that the stress-induced impact on heart rate variability, was lessened on those tested who ate almonds as a snack.
Dr. Wendy Hall, PhD, co-principal investigator comments: “It is useful to think of having a higher HRV as the heart being able to switch gears faster in response to demands on the body, which means more cardiac resilience and flexibility during periods of stress. In the long term, this is beneficial for cardiovascular health.”
As Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights, commented, she believed that the uncertainties surrounding events this year had placed an increasing focus on personal wellbeing.
She said: “Consumers have been increasingly health conscious in recent years, and the health pandemic this year has placed even more importance on staying healthy. Consumers want to look after their heart and respiratory systems and are willing to reflect that in their food choices. New research can help manufacturers and consumers alike to make informed choices and developers can be confident that the ingredients they formulate with can have a positive impact on consumers’ lives.”