Nuts are great for you—that’s been well-established by hundreds of studies over the past decade. Though, since they are calorie-dense and fairly high in fat, moderation is key when chowing down on the antioxidant-, fiber-, and protein-packed treats. Some of their healthy attributes include helping with heart health, keeping weight down, dropping cancer risk, and lowering cholesterol levels.
Scientists weren’t sure how nuts, and almonds in particular, could work against LDL, or bad cholesterol, but a new study from Penn State has gathered more information on how they clean up our blood supply. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is considered good for us because it acts like little bags that can pack in more and more cholesterol from cells, which it then transports to the liver for disposal. Researchers theorized that a subgroup called alpha-1 HDL—which are large and mature and better able to leech bad cholesterol from the blood—would increase when almonds were part of the diet, helping to explain how the nuts affect cholestorel levels.
For the study they put 48 adults with high LDL levels on two diets for six weeks. Consumed food was exactly the same on the diets, but the snack varied between 43g (about a handful) of almonds or a banana muffin on the control days. At the end of the study, they found that the almond diet increased the alpha-1 HDL by 19% and boosted HDL function by almost 7%.
“We were able to show that there were more larger particles in response to consuming the almonds compared to not consuming almonds,” said study co-author Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State. “That would translate to the smaller particles doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re going to tissues and pulling out cholesterol, getting bigger, and taking that cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body.”