Almonds: A Tasty Way to Reduce Cholesterol
Adding almonds to the diet may raise vitamin E levels in the blood and help reduce cholesterol levels, reports the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2005;105:449–54).
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that prevents damage to cell membranes caused by unstable compounds called free radicals. It can also inhibit blood platelets from sticking together and prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, effects that contribute to its reputation as a heart-healthy nutrient.
Vitamin E as it occurs in food consists of a group of compounds including alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, and other substances called tocotrienols. Recently, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine defined vitamin E as alpha-tocopherol, rather than as the group of related compounds that occur in food, and increased the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of the nutrient from 8 mg (approximately 12 IU) to 15 mg (approximately 23 IU) for adults. By contrast, most Americans only get about 7 mg (approximately 11 IU) of alpha-tocopherol per day.
Although alpha-tocopherol has been regarded as the most active form of vitamin E, at least one of the other tocopherols (gamma-tocopherol), as well as the tocotrienols, also have known health benefits. Sunflower oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, avocado, mango, sweet potato, almonds, and hazelnuts are all excellent sources of tocopherols.
Some recent studies have cast doubt on the safety of vitamin E supplementation; however, in most of these reports, only alpha-tocopherol was supplemented. Because of these concerns, food sources of vitamin E may be preferable to alpha-tocopherol supplements. (Note: preparations of mixed tocopherols are commercially available but tend to be more expensive than pure alpha-tocopherol.)
The new study investigated the effects of almonds in the diet as a way to raise levels of vitamin E in the body. Sixteen participants (average age 41) followed each of these diets for four weeks: a control diet, a low-almond diet, and a high-almond diet. For each diet, almonds contributed 0%, 10%, and 20% of the total daily calories, respectively. Blood samples were taken to measure cholesterol levels and to assess the concentration of alpha-tocopherol in different components of the blood (red blood cells and plasma).
The respective amount of alpha-tocopherol provided by each diet was 8 mg (approximately 12 IU), 16 mg (approximately 24 IU), and 25 mg (approximately 38 IU). Red blood cell and plasma concentrations of alpha-tocopherol were significantly higher with each of the almond diets than with the control diet. The almond diets also significantly decreased total and LDL-cholesterol levels, suggesting that eating almonds is an effective way to decrease cholesterol and boost levels of vitamin E in the body.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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