Go ahead -- admit it. You sneak snacks between meals. In fact, snacking has become nearly universal behavior in the U.S., with an estimated 97% of us consuming at least one snack per day.
The next time you get an attack of the munchies, you might want to consider grabbing a handful of almonds. A new study published in the October issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who ate 1.5 ounces of dry-roasted, lightly salted almonds every day experienced reduced hunger and improved dietary vitamin E and monounsaturated ("good") fat intake without increasing body weight.
That's important, given the increasing snacking frequency and snack size among U.S. adults, combined with continued increases in obesity rates and widespread nutrient shortfalls. While snacking reportedly increases risk for weight gain, but this broad generalization may mask different responses to select foods.
Snacking and weight
The newly published four-week study, led by researchers at Purdue University, investigated the effects of almond snacking on weight and appetite.
The study included 137 adults at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. The participants were divided into five groups: a control group that avoided all nuts and seeds, a breakfast meal group and lunch meal group that ate 1.5 ounces of almonds each with their daily breakfast or lunch, and a morning snack group and afternoon snack group that each consumed 1.5 ounces of almonds between their customary meals. All almond snacks were eaten within approximately two hours after their last meal and two hours before their next meal.
The participants were not given any other dietary instruction other than to follow their usual eating patterns and physical activity. Compliance to consuming almonds was monitored through self-reported dietary intake assessments and fasting vitamin E plasma levels.
Despite consuming approximately 250 additional calories per day from almonds, participants did not increase the total number of calories they ate and drank over the course of the day or gain weight over the course of the four-week study.
"This research suggests that almonds may be a good snack option, especially for those concerned about weight," says Richard Mattes, PhD, MPH, RD, distinguished professor of nutrition science at Purdue and the study's principal investigator. "In this study, participants compensated for the additional calories provided by the almonds so daily energy intake did not rise and reported reduced hunger levels and desire to eat at subsequent meals, particularly when almonds were consumed as a snack."
Almonds have also previously been shown to increase satiety in both normal weight and overweight subjects. This may be attributed to almonds' monounsaturated fat (13 grams/ounce), protein (6 grams/ounce) and fiber (4 grams/ounce) content, but further research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms.
Additionally, a recent study measuring digestibility found that whole almonds contain 20% fewer calories than the Nutrition Facts Panel states, suggesting that because of their rigid cell structure, not all calories are available for absorption. Further research is needed to better understand how this technique for calculating calories could potentially affect the calorie count of other foods.
The new study suggests snacking can be a weight-wise strategy, depending upon the foods consumed. The combined positive effects of daily almond consumption seen in participants on hunger, appetite control, and vitamin E and monounsaturated fat intake without any impact on body weight suggests almonds are a smart snack choice that can help support a healthy weight.