Research highlight: Snacking on almonds reduces bad LDL-cholesterol and improves heart health, finds new study

In a recent study, researchers from King's College London used Nightingale’s blood analysis technology to find that switching to whole almonds as snacks for just six weeks can improve heart health and lower unhealthy LDL-cholesterol levels.

You may think of snacks as the small (irrelevant) meal of the day. However, data from the UK and USA shows that most people consume more than 2 snacks per day, which contributes to 20-25% of their daily energy intake on average. What’s concerning is that the average snack has a nutrient profile of 14% of energy as saturated fats and 23% of energy as sugars (predominantly added sugars) — both exceeding the upper-limit dietary recommendations of their intake which can lead to poorer heart health in the long run.

Therefore, improving snacking habits — replacing habitual daily snacks with the right healthier options — can have a significant impact on a person’s long-term health and wellbeing.

In this 6-week randomised study, the researchers used Nightingale’s blood analysis technology to investigate whether substituting average snack energy intakes with whole nuts like almonds (which are often recommended encouraged as part of recommended healthy eating patterns) could improve a person’s heart and metabolic health.

Main findings: how almonds can help improve health

Researchers found that substituting almonds as snacks for just 6 weeks:

  • Significantly lowers bad LDL-cholesterol levels even among adults aged 30–70 years with an above-average risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). They should, therefore, be considered to replace other snack foods that are rich in saturated fatty acids (SFAs), refined carbohydrates, added sugar and low in fibre.
  • Improves vascular health and endothelial function. The endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. Studies show, Endothelial dysfunction may lead to the development of atherosclerosis, a chronic disease in which plaque (fats, cholesterol and other substances) build up on your artery walls, which restrict blood flow and can lead to heart diseases such as stroke and heart attacks.
  • Improves good versus bad fats ratio. The participants also showed a markable increase in their ratio of good fats (MUFAs, PUFAs) versus the saturated fatty acids intake. Also, these people showed an increase in intakes of dietary fibre and Vitamin E.
  • Improves overall dietary quality. The researchers observed a decrease in carbohydrate, starch, free sugars and sodium intakes in people who replaced their regular snacks with almonds.

Read the full research paper here.

What other similar studies say

  • The right diet can improve "bad" cholesterol and fatty acid levels in 4 weeks.
  • Inclusion of almonds in the diet is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, and higher intakes can lower plasma LDL cholesterol and fasting blood glucose concentrations without leading to an increase in body weight.
  • Almond skin is a source of non-nutrient bioactive, for example, (poly)phenolic compounds, that can play a role in the mechanism of CVD prevention.
  • Almonds also contain significant amounts of l-arginine, the biological precursor of the potent vasodilator, nitric oxide, and they are a natural source of phytosterols, which can contribute to the LDL cholesterol-lowering properties of almonds to an extent
  • Also, there are many health benefits of almonds that go beyond cholesterol reduction.

Interested in knowing more about how diet and other lifestyle choices affect your health? Blood shows exactly what’s happening inside your body. So, whatever health routine you may be following, the My Nightingale blood test and app can help you see how your body is reacting to it and if your lifestyle is helping you achieve good health.