Step aside, peanuts and walnuts. Almonds now are the most popular nut in the U.S. Why? Because the health benefits of adding almonds to our diets are nuts.
For example, a new study from the University of Florida found that an almond-rich diet is healthier than an almond-less diet. A 1-ounce serving of almonds--about 23 nuts--provides 164 calories and, according to the Institute of Food Technologists, is packed with protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals.
Two studies from the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that people who eat nuts such as almonds every day live "longer, healthier lives" than people who don't eat nuts at all, says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says almonds are among the "sensible snacks" it recommends, along with fresh fruit, air-popped popcorn, whole-wheat crackers, dried fruit, and fat-free yogurt. Making almonds a daily snack can cut your risk for heart disease, according to research cited by the Almond Board of California.
"Our research found that substituting almonds for a high-carbohydrate snack improved numerous heart health risk factors, including the new finding that eating almonds reduced belly fat," says Claire Berryman, lead researcher for the study. "Choosing almonds as a snack may be a simple way to help fight the onset of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases."
Nutrition expert Katie Cavuto, the dietitian for the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Flyers, praises the many "positive attributes" of almonds.
"Not only are almonds nutrient-dense, they provide plant-based proteins and fats which are nourishing and satisfying," Cavuto says. "The versatility of almonds makes them ideal to incorporate into your daily routine, snacks, recipes and meal plans."
Here are some of the other benefits of almonds:
- The healthy fats in almonds can ease your hunger. In one study, people who ate 1.5 ounces of dry-roasted, lightly salted almonds each day helped satisfy their hunger without gaining weight, the Institute of Food Technologists says.
- On an ounce-for-ounce basis, the Almond Board says, almonds are the tree nut that's the highest in six essential nutrients: protein (6 grams), fiber (4 grams), calcium (75 milligrams), vitamin E (7.4 milligrams), riboflavin (0.3 milligrams) and niacin (1 milligrams).
- A study released in 2010 suggested that an almond-enriched diet may help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- The Institute of Food Research found that almonds can aid your digestive health by boosting beneficial "gut bacteria."
The Mayo Clinic cautions, however, that you shouldn't go overboard with almonds or any other nuts, since as much as 80 percent of a nut is fat.
"Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it's still a lot of calories," the Mayo Clinic says. "That's why you should eat nuts in moderation. Ideally, you should use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products."
Still, it's hard to deny the health benefits of almonds. In fact, Health.com calls almonds the "best nuts for disease prevention," thanks to loads of calcium, fiber and vitamin E. Plus, Health.com says, almonds are "versatile," as they're available raw, toasted, slivered or flavor-coated.