A few days ago, several newspapers reported that consuming almonds would help reduce belly fat. Their reports were based on a study conducted by researchers from The Pennsylvania State University in the USA. The study findings were published in the Journal of American Heart Association this year.
What is it with almonds that they could help reduce fat levels in the body? Why were only almonds included in the study?
Who funded the almond study?
First of all, the source of funding for the study was the Almond Board of California. Hence only almonds were included in the study, and those participating in the study were given a diet of 1.5 oz of almonds every day, as opposed to controls, who received muffins of similar calorific value. It was found that not only the LDL cholesterol – sometimes referred to as the ‘bad cholesterol’ – was reduced, but also overall cholesterol levels. Further, rather surprisingly, central adiposity – or fat in abdomen, leg fat, and waist circumference – was reduced in those taking the almond diet.
Remember that high cholesterol levels, waist circumference and body mass index are some of the criteria used for determining the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. In effect, the authors concluded that including almonds in your diet regularly could help reduce heart diseases as a whole.
Almonds are good for health
Almonds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, which are considered to be good for health. Apart from this, they are also a rich source of fibres, manganese and are particularly high in vitamin E levels. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties, and prevents ageing and skin damage. Almonds therefore, it should come as no surprise, are an important part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been known to improve heart health and longevity.
Going back to the American study, apart from the fact that it received funding from the almond board, it is worth bearing in mind that the study was conducted on a predominantly Caucasian population, which makes generalising the findings to the Indian context difficult. How far the health benefits could be attributable only to almonds is also difficult to determine from the study findings.
Alternative to almonds
Besides, 1.5 oz of almonds translates to 30-35 almonds per day, which may be a lot to consume, especially if you factor in the cost issue: a 500 g pack costs Rs 549. Is there an alternative to almonds? Yes; there are other nuts that could be equally nutritive with similar health benefits. Walnuts, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts could be worthy alternatives. If you are seeking something less expensive, then the good old groundnuts are also rich in nutrients and energy.
The bottom line, once again, is to include almonds as part of a balanced diet, something which I had touched upon in my earlier article on heart health.