We often think that to improve our diets, we have to make major changes, drastically reducing calories or cutting out sugar entirely. But research is showing that we may actually be able to make our diets better just with one simple addition.
According to research conducted at the University of Florida, a handful of almonds may be all it takes to make your diet better. For this study, researchers recruited 28 parent-child pairs. The researchers asked the adults to eat 1.5 ounces of whole almonds every day for three weeks, while the kids ate either half an ounce or the equivalent in almond butter.
The researchers evaluated the participants' eating habits using a measurement called the Healthy Eating Index. At the beginning of the study, both parents and adults averaged a score of 53.7 on the index. This is dangerously close to the "poor diet": range of 51 and below — and falls on the low end of the "needs improvement: spectrum of 51 to 80. A score above 80 indicates a good diet.
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The researchers didn't ask the parents or the children to make any changes to their diets other than eating the almonds. But by the end of the study, they were both averaging a 61.4 on the Healthy Eating Index. They were eating more protein and fewer empty calories. The researchers believe these positive changes may be in part because the participants were eating protein-rich almonds instead of salty, processed snacks. This is a significant change, given the dramatic increase in snack consumption in children over the last 20 years. Encouraging children to eat a healthy snack like almonds rather than a nutritionally empty one like pretzels can benefit them well into adulthood.
And almonds aren't beneficial just because they can help modify your eating habits. An animal study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that they can also help protect against cardiovascular disease. This study found that eating almonds helped protect rats from hyperlipidemia even when they ate diets high in fat or high in white flour and fructose. It also prevented endothelial dysfunction by promoting the release of nitric oxide. Almond supplementation even helped the rats normalize their cholesterol levels.
I've written before about how beneficial nuts are for your health. In fact, just recently, I told you about how eating walnuts can help you reduce your risk of colon cancer. I think you should try to eat nuts every day, especially if you've been eating an empty-calorie snack. Replace that with nuts, and your diet will instantly improve.
Just keep in mind that different nuts have different benefits, but they all tend to be high in calories. So just because you want to avoid both colon cancer and cardiovascular disease doesn't mean you should have an ounce of walnuts and an ounce of almonds for a snack. You'd take in almost the calorie equivalent of a meal. Instead, mix it up — eat walnuts one day and almonds the next. You'll still experience plenty of benefits.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD