The almond tree (scientific name: Prunus dulcis), native to the Middle East, is mostly known for its seed -- the almond. Almonds have been used in many delicious dishes, ranging from elaborate deserts, salads, or even alone as a quick snack. Besides its important purpose in many dishes, there is also evidence that almonds have numerous health benefits, which include the reduction of inflammation, treating certain skin conditions (such as eczema), promoting heart health, and aiding colon health. In fact, almonds have been used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve the health of the brain and nervous system. However, there is also mounting evidence that almonds can also improve your cholesterol levels.
Do Almonds Lower Cholesterol?
There have been multiple studies that have looked at the effect that almonds have on lipids, and the results appear promising. These studies have looked at a wide range of individuals -- including those with high cholesterol, normal cholesterol levels and diabetes, and who are obese -- consuming anywhere between 25 to 168 g of almonds a day. This is roughly equivalent to 1 to 6 handfuls of almonds a day. In some studies, almonds replaced some of the fats consumed in the diet, whereas in other cases, almonds were added to a healthy diet.
To date, studies have found that:
- Almonds reduce total cholesterol levels by 3% to 11%.
- LDL cholesterol levels are reduced by 4% to 15%.
The effects of almonds on HDL cholesterol vary. While some studies have noted a slight increase in HDL of up to 4%, other studies have seen no impact on HDL levels. In most studies, triglyceride levels also appear unaffected by almond consumption.
The Bottom Line
There is evidence that almonds can help lower total cholesterol levels, LDL, and triglycerides, and raise HDL cholesterol. While it is not fully known how they affect cholesterol levels, it may have something to do with one of many nutrients contained in almonds.
Fiber, flavonoids, and unsaturated fats -- all components in almonds -- possess lipid-lowering properties. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration issued a qualified health claim for almonds and other nuts in 2003, allowing companies that manufacture nuts to label their products as "heart healthy." This claim states, while it has not been proven, that evidence suggests that 1.5 ounces of nuts may reduce heart disease when used in conjunction with a healthy diet.
Unfortunately, more studies are needed to provide a direct link to almonds and lowered cholesterol levels. In the meantime, it doesn't hurt to incorporate almonds into your diet -- especially if you are going to substitute them with more cholesterol-damaging snacks, such as chips and crackers.
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Jenkins DJA, Kendal CWC, Marchie A et al. Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: blood lipids, oxidized LDL, lipoprotein (a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: a randomized, controlled crossover trial. Circulation 2002;106:1327-1332.
Kris-Etherton PM, Karmally W, Ramakrishnan R. Almonds lower LDL cholesterol. J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109:1521-1522.
Phung OJ, Makanji SS, White W, et al. Almonds have a neutral effect on serum lipid profiles: a meta-analysis of randomized trials. J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109:865-873.