Almonds are both my favorite snack and my favorite trail food. In fact, lately I seldom eat anything else between meals or when I’m out hiking.
Unlike some other tasty nuts, such as cashews, almonds are low in carbohydrates"”the part of our diet that is largely responsible for raising blood sugar levels. Nothing else in our diet is more important in managing diabetes than keeping that level in check.
Few nuts have a more favorable ratio of super-healthy monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats than almonds. I can eat macadamia nuts until the container is empty, but that’s a good way to put on a few pounds. On the other hand, I don’t particularly appreciate the taste of other healthy nuts, such as pecans or walnuts.
As trail food, nothing can compare with nuts. They can withstand rough handling in our packs and require no refrigeration. But when I’m 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 the crunch I like.
Roasted almonds have more crunch than raw ones, but they aren’t are as healthy. However, I was delighted to see a recent study that supports my preference for almonds, even if the research was about almonds that are roasted and salted. Last fall, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study"”you can see it at the journal’s website"”that 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 are in 1.5 ounces"”I counted 20.
The study included 137 adult participants at a high risk for type 2 diabetes. Despite consuming approximately 250 additional calories per day from almonds, the study participants who snacked on almonds did not increase the total number of calories they consumed over the course of the day. Nor did they 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.
Nevertheless, I need to share three concerns. First, the authors report that the Almond Board of California provided funding and supplied almonds for the study, although they also report that there were 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, although earlier studies have shown that almonds increase satiety. The researchers also suggest that this might be due to energy compensation in the diet and through inefficient energy absorption. My third concern is that this was a short study that didn’t measure the long-term impact of snacking on almonds.
In time, we may have clearer answers. Meanwhile, I know that my weight keeps going down even as I eat my daily almond snacks.