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Nutrition News: Cholesterol-Lowering Almonds

Charlyn Fargo on

A study by researchers at Penn State University finds eating almonds may benefit heart health by boosting the most beneficial type of HDL cholesterol and improving its ability to remove harmful cholesterol from the body.

Researchers looked at 48 middle-aged, normal weight and overweight men and women who had elevated LDL cholesterol levels and normal HDL cholesterol levels. All participants ate the same traditional cholesterol-lowering diet, except for a daily snack. The test group ate 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of almonds for a snack, while the control group ate a banana muffin, which provided an equivalent number of calories as the almonds.

Among the almond snackers, LDL cholesterol levels went down, while HDL cholesterol levels remained the same. This benefit is similar to what is typically seen when almonds are included in heart-healthy diets.

Looking more closely at HDL levels of study participants, researchers found that those who ate almonds as a snack saw increased levels of alpha-1 HDL, the form known to be most protective against heart disease. In normal weight (but not overweight) participants, almonds also improved HDL function such that it was better able to scavenge and remove excess cholesterol from the body -- a process known as cholesterol efflux -- and protect against heart disease.

Though total HDL cholesterol concentrations are thought to be important in determining cardiovascular disease risk, this evidence suggests that the protective effects of HDL may be more dependent on HDL particle type and function, rather than on total HDL cholesterol concentration alone. Researchers surmise that eating almonds can help lower LDL levels while maintaining HDL levels, and may actually help HDL cholesterol work better.

The bottom line? Try incorporating a serving of almonds into your daily diet, especially if your cholesterol is high.

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Q and A

Q: What are omega-9 fatty acids?

A: You have probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids and possibly even omega-6 fatty acids, but what about omega-9 fatty acids? Their lack of mention in current-day nutrition news does not reflect their importance in our bodies, but rather the ease that our bodies have in obtaining them. Unlike omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which need to be obtained through diet, omega-9 fatty acids are considered nonessential fatty acids, as our body can synthesize them from other foods. Additionally, there is no need for oral supplementation. Unlike omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated, omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fatty acids, meaning they have just one double bond. The most common omega-9 fatty acid is called oleic acid and can be found in vegetable, seed and nut oils like olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, peanut oil and sunflower oil. Monounsaturated fatty acids have bene shown to lower risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol. There is also evidence that monounsaturated fatty acids can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.

Information courtesy of Environmental Nutrition.

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