Almonds are both my favorite snack and trail food. In fact, lately I seldom eat anything else between meals or on trails.
Unlike some other tasty nuts like cashews, almonds are much lower in carbohydrates, which are the part of our diet that is almost solely responsible for raising our blood sugar level. Nothing else in our diet is more important for managing our diabetes than keeping that level in check.
Some other nuts have a somewhat more favorable ratio of those super-healthy monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats than almonds. But I avoid them as a matter of taste. I can eat macadamia nuts nonstop until the container is empty, but my body gets so full that I can easily put on a few pounds. On the other hand, I don’t particularly appreciate the taste of other healthy nuts like pecans or walnuts.
As a trail food nothing can compare with any sort of nuts. They can withstand rough handling in our packs and require no refrigeration. But when I’m at home, I keep my snacking almonds in the freezer. Raw almonds are sometimes too soft for my taste, but eating them right out of the freezer gives them that degree of crunch that I appreciate.
Two big reasons why almonds have become my only snack and trail food are weight loss and diabetes. After traveling almost all summer, I’m struggling to take off the last few pounds that I gained on my trips. I stick with almonds for my diabetes because they are one of the most carb-friendly snacks.
Roasted almonds have more crunch than those that are raw, but I don’t think they are as healthy for us. Still, I was delighted to see a new study that bears out my preference for almonds, even if the study was about those that are roasted and salted.
My preference for snacking on almonds is anecdotal. Scientifically, you can say that the sample size is one, which you may sometimes see as “n=1,” because the letter n stands for the number of people in the study.
But now we have a real study of the benefits of snacking on almonds. A few days ago the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the study online in advance of printing it. The abstract of “Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial,” is available at the journal’s website. A representative sent me the full-text of the study on my request.
The study found that people who ate 1.5 ounces of dry-roasted, lightly salted almonds every day experienced reduced hunger and improved dietary vitamin E and monounsaturated fat intake without increasing body weight. When I weighed almonds on my food scale, I was surprised to see how many almonds 1.5 ounces of them are — that number is 20.
The study included 137 adult participants at a high risk for getting type 2 diabetes. Despite consuming approximately 250 additional calories per day from almonds, the people in the study who snacked on almonds did not increase the total number of calories they ate and drank over the course of the day or gain weight over the course of the four-week study.
A big strength of this study by Purdue University and Australian researchers is that it was randomized and controlled. The control group avoided all nuts and seeds. The second and third groups ate 1.5 ounces of almonds each with their daily breakfast or lunch. A morning snack group and an afternoon snack group each ate 1.5 ounces of almonds two hours after their previous meal and two hours before the next one. This is a good sized study conducted with the standard controls.
Nevertheless, I need to share three concerns. First, the authors report that Almond Board of California provided funding and supplied almonds for the study, although they also report that they have no conflicts of interest. Second, and perhaps more serious is that we still don’t know why the study participants who snacked on almonds didn’t gain weight. However, earlier studies showed that almonds increase satiety. The researchers also suggested that the reason why might be due to energy compensation in the diet and through inefficient energy absorption. And third, this was also a short study that couldn’t measure the long-term impact of snacking on almonds.
In time, we may know the answers to these limitations. Meanwhile, I know that my weight keeps going down even as eat my daily almond snacks.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.