Food For Fitness
"Almonds are food for fitness. Carbs get most of the attention when it comes to fueling for exercise, but almonds offer a nutrition package, including good unsaturated fats, the antioxidant vitamin E, and proanthocyanidins (class of polyphenols, which are protective compounds in plants) that help explain the beneficial outcomes in our study." - David C. Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, Professor and Principal Investigator, Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University
Engaging in exercise promotes a healthful lifestyle, but even when performed correctly, exercise causes fatigue and muscle damage. Recovery from exercise is important because it leads to muscle gain and improved fitness over time. A new study involving people who exercise occasionally (less than three times per week) demonstrated that snacking on almonds reduced feelings of fatigue and tension, increased leg and lower back strength during recovery, and decreased muscle damage during the first day of recovery.
David C. Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, Professor and Principal Investigator, Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University, led this novel research, supported with funding from the Almond Board of California. Dr. Nieman's team wanted to see if an almond snack compared to a high-carbohydrate cereal bar snack would improve inflammation and recovery in adults engaging in 90-minute exercise sessions.
"What we found tells us definitively that almonds should be added to sports nutrition strategies to help people recover better from exercise," explained Dr. Nieman. "Almonds are food for fitness. Carbs get most of the attention when it comes to fueling for exercise, but almonds offer a nutrition package, including good unsaturated fats, the antioxidant vitamin E, and proanthocyanidins (class of polyphenols, which are protective compounds in plants) that help explain the beneficial outcomes in our study."
One serving of almonds (28g) has 13 g of good unsaturated fat and only 1 g of saturated fat.
In this trial, researchers included 64 healthy adults with an average age of 46 years. Participants were included if they exercised less than three (3) sessions per week. The experiment used a randomized, parallel group design, where treatment participants (n = 33) ate 57 g (2 ounces) almonds daily, split between morning and afternoon, for 4 weeks. Control participants (n = 31) consumed a calorie-matched cereal bar, also in split doses.
Participants submitted blood and urine samples and responded to mood and muscle-soreness questionnaires. Height, weight, and body composition were measured. Then, people in the study were instructed to perform muscle function tests (exercises), and once complete, they initiated the 4-week supplementation period—taking either almonds or cereal bars. At the conclusion of 4 weeks, participants submitted dietary intake records, blood and urine samples, and another set of questionnaire responses. Muscle function testing was repeated and then participants engaged in 90-minute eccentric exercise bouts comprising 17 different exercises.
Examples of eccentric exercise include slowly lowering a load to the floor, lowering into a squat, or lowering during a push-up. People in the study returned the following day to submit additional blood and urine samples and questionnaires as well as to perform additional physical fitness tests. Researchers assessed changes in plasma oxylipins, which are bioactive, oxidized lipids involved in the post-exercise inflammation response, and urinary gut-derived (from the large intestine) phenolics (antioxidants from plants), plasma cytokines, muscle damage biomarkers, mood states, and exercise performance.
Results - Almond consumers experienced:
reduced post-exercise fatigue and tension as well as higher levels of leg and lower back strength;
lower levels of serum creatine kinase, which is a marker of muscle damage, immediately and one day after exercise;
higher levels of the oxylipin (molecules that affect muscle function, recovery, and fat burn) 12,13-DiHOME and lower levels for oxylipin 9,10-DiHOME;
increased urine levels of phenolics derived in the large intestine (indicates consumption of polyphenols from almonds, and polyphenols are naturally occurring plant compounds that protect plants and may benefit human health);
some improvement to mood state following the intervention.
Of the oxylipin finding, Dr. Nieman explained, "Oxylipins are normally generated during exercise. Some oxylipins are considered good 'players,' such as 12,13-DiHOME, which helps muscle burn more fat for fuel during exercise. Other oxylipins are pro-inflammatory and cause more harm than health. That's 9,10-DiHOME; a bad 'player.' This bad oxylipin can decrease muscle function, and it's elevated in certain disease states. Our almond consumers had a lower level of the bad 9,10-DiHOME compared to the control group." These oxylipin findings are exciting to Dr. Nieman and will be of interest to the physical performance and sports nutrition communities. "The almond-related increase in 12,13-DiHOME and decrease in 9,10-DiHOME after vigorous exercise is an ideal outcome to support muscle function and recovery."
A limitation of the study is that it only included non-smoking participants without obesity who exercised occasionally; therefore, we cannot generalize the findings to other demographic and health status groups.
A one-ounce (28 g) serving of almonds provides 4 g (14% DV) fiber and 15 essential nutrients, including: 77 mg (20% DV) magnesium, 210 mg (4% DV) potassium, and 7.27 mg (50% DV) Vitamin E, making them a perfect nutrient-rich snack to promote physical fitness.
New Study Indicates Almonds Improve Some Appetite-Regulating Hormones in Overweight/Obese Adults
"Calories are important, but we think there's more to the story than that. Our understanding of almonds is evolving as nutrition researchers apply the scientific method to explore these important topics. For one, consumers who eat tree nuts, like almonds, have a lower risk for obesity. But what's so special about almonds? We wanted to dig into that. We thought something beneficial must happen on a hormonal level when almonds are added to the diet." - Dr. Coates, Professor of Human Nutrition and Director of the Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition, and Activity at the University of South Australia.
Adding almonds helps reduce blood glucose response and aids in insulin resistance.
Appetite regulation and weight management are complex. People eat not only for hunger, but for a variety of other reasons, such as stress, boredom, excitement, and so much more, which can lead to overweight/obesity. Addressing the challenge of overweight/obesity requires a multifaceted approach with innovative thinking, and new research about almonds is doing just that. A study comprising adults with overweight and obesity showed almond consumption helped improve crucial appetite-regulating hormones.
The rates of overweight and obesity are a growing public health concern. Modulating appetite through better hormonal responses is a promising approach for assisting weight management. Research continues to explore how almonds can be a simple, effective addition to weight loss plans. A paradox of these tasty treasures is that almonds' caloric density does not increase body weight, body mass index (BMI), or body fat and may decrease waist circumference.
This new research from nutrition scientists in Australia set out to better understand why consuming almonds may lead to more effective weight management. Dr. Alison Coates and her collaborators studied how almonds affected appetite, including the hormones that help regulate appetite. The study was funded by the Almond Board of California.
"Different foods impact people differently," said Dr. Coates, Professor of Human Nutrition and Director of the Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition, and Activity at the University of South Australia. "Calories are important, but we think there's more to the story than that. Our understanding of almonds is evolving as nutrition researchers apply the scientific method to explore these important topics. For one, consumers who eat tree nuts, like almonds, have a lower risk for obesity. But what's so special about almonds? We wanted to dig into that. We thought something beneficial must happen on a hormonal level when almonds are added to the diet."
In her research, Dr. Coates hypothesized that almonds would have a favorable effect on the hormones that regulate appetite, as well as impact the study participants' perception of their appetites. Furthermore, the researchers wanted to know if an almond snack would help reduce subsequent consumption of calories compared to a standard carbohydrate-based snack.
The study involved 140 individuals with overweight or obesity (42 males, 98 females), aged 47.5 years (+ 10.8 years). Participants consumed unsalted, whole, natural almonds with skins (intervention) or an oven-baked fruit cereal bar (control) and had measured their levels of appetite-regulating hormones and self-reported appetite ratings over a subsequent 2-hour period. The almond portion provided was approximately 30 to 50 grams almonds (depending upon which calorie level the participant followed). A subset of participants was then invited individually to dine freely at a buffet over a 30-minute period. Appetite ratings were measured at the conclusion of the buffet experience. Researchers explored if almond consumption, when compared to the carbohydrate snack, influenced how much people would consume from the buffet.
Researchers measured appetite-regulating hormones: ghrelin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide-1, leptin, pancreatic polypeptide, peptide YY, C-peptide, glucagon, and cholecystokinin.
C-peptide response was 47% smaller with almonds compared to the carbohydrate snack (p < 0.001). Decreased C-peptide activity indicates lower insulin response, which may have implications for the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Almonds may reduce the glucose response and over time may help reduce insulin resistance when consumed with a high carbohydrate food or meal. Additionally, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon, and pancreatic polypeptide responses were larger with almonds versus the carbohydrate snack (17.8%, p = 0.005; 38.74%, p < 0.001; 44.5%, p < 0.001, respectively). Glucagon promotes satiety and may encourage weight loss, while pancreatic polypeptide lowers appetite, reduces food intake, and helps food remain in the stomach longer.
Cholecystokinin, ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide-1, leptin, and peptide YY responses were not different between the almond or the snack bar groups. Neither did self-reported appetite ratings differ significantly between the groups. However, the group treated with almonds consumed about 100 fewer calories at the buffet, although the finding was not statistically significant. (The exact calorie reduction was 72 calories.)
Appetite regulation is complex, and consuming fewer calories may be important clinically and for public health when viewed over extended time across populations. "Think about what the calorie reduction each day over the course of a year would mean for weight management," said Dr. Coates. "That would contribute to a positive reversal in the gradual, nearly imperceptible weight gain many people experience yearly, compounded over a lifetime. I'm excited about the promise of almonds, how they can help us reshape public health."
While several of the main appetite-regulating hormones for the almond group responded favorably, that did not translate to a decrease in self-reported appetite or to statistically significant reduced short-term energy consumption. But this is not surprising. "Published research tells us there's often no direct correlation between appetite hormones, appetite ratings, and subsequent energy intake," Dr. Coates explained.
Since obesity is characterized by a resistance to appetite-regulating hormones, there could be a misalignment between the body's hormonal signals and perceptions of fullness in individuals with overweight and obesity. Regardless, almonds' nutritional profile may contribute to the satiating properties that explain why the buffet eaters consumed fewer calories. One ounce (28 g) of almonds includes 6 g protein and almonds are a good source of fiber. Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts such as almonds may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of almonds (28 g) has 13 g of unsaturated fat and only 1 g of saturated fat.
While the findings from this research are encouraging, there are some limitations to consider. A COVID-19 overlay resulted in restrictions on the number of participants who could complete the buffet challenge. In addition, as noted before, all participants had elevated body weight. Future research could examine how healthy-weight individuals respond to almond snacks and provide insight into the possible prevention of overweight and obesity. Lastly, the research team recommends that future studies investigate implications for longer-term appetite regulation.
In conclusion, the study indicates almond consumption resulted in improved hormonal responses, which reflects better control of insulin release and better blood glucose regulation. Regular almond consumers may also be more likely to consume fewer calories and manage weight better.
One ounce (28 g) of almonds provides 4 g fiber and 15 essential nutrients, including: 77 mg magnesium (18.3% DV), 210 mg potassium (4% DV), and 7.27 mg vitamin E (50% DV), making them a great snack to manage weight.
Almond Consumption May Benefit Some Gut Microbiota Functionality, Study Finds
Enjoying almonds increased butyrate concentrations in healthy adults.
Scientific progress in understanding the human gut microbiome thrills experts in nutrition and gastrointestinal health. Researchers know that diet affects the gut microbiome in ways that benefit health and disease prevention, but they are still discovering the mechanisms of how this happens. New almond research may add another piece to the puzzle. A clinical study investigated how gut microbes break down almonds to produce butyrate, a specific microbiota product associated with several health benefits.
New research found that consuming almonds significantly increases butyrate, a type of beneficial short-chain fatty acid (SCFA), in the colon. Butyrate, which is produced by microbes in the gut when they digest fiber, is the primary fuel source for colonocytes, the cells that line the colon, and may play a role in multiple processes related to human health, including improving sleep quality and fighting inflammation, and has been associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. Almond consumption also significantly increases stool output. Regular stool output is associated with a well-functioning gastrointestinal system.
A team of researchers led by Professor Kevin Whelan from King's College London, set out to determine the impact whole almonds and ground almonds have on the composition of gut microbiota, gut microbiota diversity and gut transit time. The study was funded by the Almond Board of California.
"Part of the way in which the gut microbiota impact human health is through the production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate. These molecules act as a fuel source for cells in the colon, they regulate absorption of other nutrients in the gut, and they help balance the immune system," explained Kevin Whelan, PhD, RD, Professor of Dietetics, King's College London.
In this trial, researchers recruited 87 healthy adult participants, males and females, aged 18 to 45 years, who described themselves as regular snackers enjoying 2 or more snacks daily. Participants were consuming a typical diet that was lower in fiber than recommended and screened extensively for exclusion criteria. Each group comprised 29 participants; group one received 56 g/day (about 2 oz./day) of whole almonds, group two 56 g/day (about 2 oz./day) of ground almonds (almond flour), and the control group ate energy-matched snack muffins (2/day). Participants were required to take their study snacks instead of customary snacks, and they did this twice daily for 4 weeks. They drank at least 100 mL water with each snack.
Measured outcomes included relative abundance of fecal bifidobacteria, fecal microbiota composition and diversity, fecal SCFAs, whole-gut transit time, gut pH, stool output (both frequency and consistency), and gut symptoms.
A subgroup of 47 undertook measurement of gut transit time, pH, and pressure with a wireless motility capsule for baseline; 41 completed the endpoint. Another group of 31 participants were in the mastication analysis, designed to assess the impact of almond form (i.e., whole versus ground) on particle size distribution and lipid release following mastication. The fecal microbiota composition was analyzed, and there were no significant differences in phyla or genera between bacteria groups at baseline. Moreover, almonds in either whole or ground state did not increase the abundance of fecal bifidobacteria when compared to the control snack. However, a previous research study reported that almonds increased microbiome diversity, while decreasing relative levels of potentially harmful bacteria.
For the gut microbiota metabolites, researchers found no significant differences between groups for total or individual SCFAs. In the statistical analysis performed, butyrate was significantly higher among all almond consumers compared to those who consumed the snack muffin. There was no significant difference in whole-gut transit time, neither was a difference observed in small bowel pH or colonic pH. The whole-almond consumers experienced a significant difference in stool frequency with an additional 1.5 bowel movements per week. There were no differences in any of the groups for incidence or severity of common gastrointestinal symptoms.
In summary, Professor Whelan and his colleagues found that study participants who consumed almonds experienced significant increases in butyrate as well as increased stool frequency. Almonds were well tolerated and did not lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, which indicates almond consumption may be a way to increase fiber without causing any adverse effects. This is suggestive of positive alterations to microbiota functionality.
"We think these findings suggest almond consumption may benefit bacterial metabolism in a way that has the potential to influence human health," said Professor Whelan.
Limitations of this study are seen in both the sex distribution of volunteers, where more than 86% were female, as well as in age. Average age of participants was 27.5 years. The researchers recognize their findings are not necessarily generalizable to males or to older populations.
Almonds provide fiber (12.5 / 3.5 g per 100g / 30g serving) and 15 essential nutrients including (per 100g / 30g serving): magnesium (270 / 81 mg), potassium (733 / 220 mg), and vitamin E (25.6 / 7.7 mg), making them a perfect nutrient-rich snack to promote gut health.
Researchers explored the prebiotic effect of almonds and the potential impact almond processing had on this effect in a free-living, 4-week, 3-arm, parallel-design randomized controlled trial.
Eighty-seven healthy adults participated and received either 56 g/d whole almonds, 56 g/d ground almonds, or an isocaloric snack muffin as the control.
Baseline and endpoint measures included gut microbiota composition and diversity, short-chain fatty acids, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), gut transit time, stool output, and gut symptoms (n=87). A subgroup (n=31) was measured for the impact of almond form, ground or whole, on particle size distribution (PSD) along with predicted lipid release.
Researchers observed no significant differences in the abundance of fecal bifidobacteria following consumption of either form of almond or the control snack. Almond consumers (both ground and whole almonds), had higher butyrate (24.1 µmol/g; SD 15.0 µmol/g) compared to the control (18.2 µmol/g, SD 9.1 µmol/g; p=0.046).
There was no effect of almonds on gut microbiota at the phylum level or diversity, gut transit time, stool consistency, or gut symptoms. Three VOCs increased following almond consumption compared to control muffins, but this change was not statistically significant.
Ground almonds resulted in significantly smaller PSD and higher predicted lipid release (10.4%, SD 1.8%) in comparison to whole almonds (9.3%, SD 2.0%; p=0.017).
Of the subgroup participating in the mastication study, analysis of PSD demonstrated a significant interaction between whole almonds and the particle size on PSD; however, commercially ground almonds did not differ meaningfully in their nutrient bioaccessibility from whole almonds.
Post-hoc testing showed whole almond participants had higher intakes of monounsaturated fatty acids, total fiber, potassium, along with other nutrients when compared to the control participants. Similarly, ground almond consumers had higher intakes of monounsaturated fatty acids, total fiber, and other micronutrients.
Participants who consumed almonds experienced small but significant differences in stool frequency as well as significant increases in butyrate in the colon. Researchers indicate that these findings suggest positive alterations to gut microbiota functionality. The impact of almond consumption on bacterial metabolism has the potential to influence human health.
These results have inspired thinking regarding how almonds may benefit older adults as well as those with constipation, as these populations are known to have lower levels of bifidobacteria than healthy, young adults as well as those without constipation.
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