New Delhi: They're tiny with a distinct nutty flavour, but are major powerhouses of health. Almonds, although small, are known for their health boosting properties.
They are encumbered with essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and dietary fibres which are necessary for a healthy mind and body.
Apart from promoting weight loss, almonds boost brain health and reduce blood pressure, while also lowering cholesterol levels.
Establishing their health properties further, a study has claimed that a handful of almonds on a daily basis not just reduces cholesterol, but may also boost the levels of 'good' cholesterol in the body while simultaneously improving the way it functions.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University in the US compared the levels and function of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol in people who ate almonds every day, to the HDL levels and function of the same group of people when they ate a muffin instead.
They found that while participants were on the almond diet, their HDL levels and functionality improved.
Almonds work by gathering cholesterol from tissues, like the arteries, and helping transport it out of the body.
"HDL is very small when it gets released into circulation. It is like a garbage bag that slowly gets bigger and more spherical as it gathers cholesterol from cells and tissues before depositing them in the liver to be broken down," said Kris-Etherton, professor at Penn State.
Depending on how much cholesterol it has collected, HDL cholesterol is categorised into five "sub-populations," which range from the very small pre-beta-1 to the larger, more mature a-1.
Researchers fed 48 men and women with elevated LDL cholesterol who participated in two six-week diet periods.
In both, their diets were identical except for the daily snack. On the almond diet, participants received 43 grammes ? about a handful - of almonds a day. During the control period, they received a banana muffin instead.
At the end of each diet period, the researchers measured the levels and function of each participant's HDL cholesterol.
They then compared the results to the participants' baseline measurements taken at the beginning of the study.
The researchers found that compared to the control diet, the almond diet increased a-1 HDL - when the particles are at their largest size and most mature stage - by 19 per cent.
Additionally, the almond diet improved HDL function by 6.4 per cent, in participants of normal weight.
"While almonds will not eliminate the risk of heart disease, they may be a smart choice for a healthy snack. In addition to their heart-healthy benefits, almonds also provide a dose of good fats, vitamin E and fibre," said Etherton.
"They are not a cure-all, but when eaten in moderation ? and especially when eaten instead of a food of lower nutritional value - they are a great addition to an already healthy diet," she added.
The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.
(With PTI inputs)