New Research Shows Eating Almonds Improved Diet Quality Of Parents And Their Children
Modesto, CA (December 10, 2015) – A new study published in Nutrition Research found that adding a moderate amount of almonds to the family diet (1.5 ounces/day of whole almonds or almond butter for parents, 0.5 ounces/day for children) significantly improved overall diet quality and modulated intestinal microbiota composition in study participants.
The health benefits of almonds have been well-established and reflected in science-based dietary guidance to consume nuts regularly as part of a healthy dietary pattern, but this is the first study of its kind to investigate the effects of dietary change on digestive health and immune function in parent-child pairs. Knowing that almonds contain a combination of fiber, vitamin E, unsaturated fats and flavonoids, study authors wanted to explore the nuts’ impact on gut microbiota, which may in turn impact immunity, inflammation and general health.
The 14-week, randomized, controlled, crossover clinical study, led by researchers at the University of Florida, was conducted in 29 healthy parent and child pairs. The majority of the parents were mothers (n=24) who were overweight and an average of 35 years old. The children were 15 boys and 14 girls who were an average of 4 years old. Parents and children ate 1.5 and 0.5 ounces of almonds and/or almond butter, respectively, on a daily basis for three weeks, as part of their usual diet, followed by a 6-week washout period and another 3-week period of following the usual diet with no almonds. Adult participants completed daily questionnaires of compliance with nut intake and weekly dietary recalls on behalf of both themselves and their child.
When parents and children ate almonds, their overall diet quality improved, as measured by increased Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores, a standard measure of adherence to recommended dietary guidance. While at the beginning of the study, HEI scores for parents and children fell below U.S. national averages, almond consumption increased their scores to 61.4, well above national averages of 57.4 for adults 31-50 years and 54.9 for children 4-8 years). Parent and child HEI component scores increased for fatty acids, total protein, seafood and plant protein and decreased for fruit and empty calories. In addition, when eating almonds, participants also consumed significantly more vitamin E and magnesium, two nutrients commonly under-consumed by the majority of adults and children.
Although no specific changes in immune markers were observed, almond consumption did result in detectable changes in gut microbiota, which may have a variety of health benefits. Interestingly, although children consumed only one third of the amount of almonds compared to adults, microbiota was affected to a greater extent in their bodies. Further research done over a longer time period or with a higher consumption of almonds is needed to confirm the potential effects on immune status.
“The findings suggest that participants replaced some of their empty calorie snacks with almonds, which has important implications since snacking has become so prevalent,” said Wendy Dahl, PhD, RD, associate professor at the University of Florida and contributing author to the study. Compliance to the almond regimen was also good. “Our study participants generally liked almonds a lot, and were happy to eat them – so making this dietary change wasn’t a tough sell, says Bobbi Langkamp-Henken, PhD, RD, professor at University of Florida and principal investigator of the study. “Recommending almonds as a snack may be a simple strategy to establish healthy eating patterns in children and an achievable way to help improve public health.”
These new findings are in line with the more than 120 peer-reviewed studies to date which together suggest that almonds, when eaten as part of a healthy diet, may have beneficial effects on heart health, diabetes and weight management. In addition, a recent market research study in 1,013 U.S. consumers showed that out of 105 foods included in the survey, almonds were the food most strongly associated with vitality and healthy lifestyle attributes.
While many commonly consumed snacks provide empty calories, almonds have a unique nutrient package that makes them a satisfying choice. A one-ounce serving of almonds provides 160 calories with 6 grams of plant based protein, 4 grams of filling dietary fiber, 13 grams of “good” unsaturated fats and important vitamins and minerals including vitamin E (35% DV), magnesium (20% DV) and potassium (6% DV).
Almonds’ nutrient package makes them an ideal fit for heart-healthy diets and a deliciously easy way for both adults and children to snack smarter.
Design: In this randomized controlled crossover trial, 29 parents (35 ± 0.6 y) and their children (n=29; 4 ± 0.2 y) consumed 1.5 oz and 0.5 oz/day, respectively, of almonds and/or almond butter as part of their usual diets or their usual intake without almonds for 3 weeks followed by a 6-week washout period and the opposite intervention. Parents were primarily white females who were overweight but otherwise healthy, and the children were predominately normal weight.
Parents completed daily questionnaires of stool frequency and compliance with nut intake. The Gastrointestinal Symptom Response Scale (GSRS) was administered weekly. Participants provided stools for microbiota analysis and saliva for secretory immunoglobulin A. Serum antioxidant/pro-inflammatory balance was determined in parents. From weekly dietary recalls, nutrient and energy intakes were assessed and Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI) scores were calculated.
Results: Consuming almonds increased total HEI score from 53.7 ± 1.8 to 61.4 ± 1.4 (parents) and 53.7 ± 2.6 to 61.4 ± 2.2 (children) (P<0.001). Parent and child component scores increased for fatty acids, total protein, and seafood and plant protein and decreased for empty calories. Participants also consumed significantly more vitamin E and magnesium when eating almonds, increasing vitamin E intake from 4.2 ± 0.3 to 9.4 ± 0.4 mg/1000 kcal (parents) and 3.5 ± 0.4 to 6.4 ± 0.3 mg/1000 kcal (children) (P<0.001) and magnesium intake from 164 ± 8 to 202 ± 6 mg/1000 kcal (parents) and 154 ± 8 to 178 ± 8 mg/1000 kcal (children) (P<0.001).
Most parents found almonds relatively easy to incorporate into the family diet. Although more than half of the parent/child pairs reported a challenge for incorporating almonds into the diet at some point during the study, most of these were in children identified as “picky eaters” with only minor challenges reported from the other parents. Minimal changes in gastrointestinal symptoms and no change in stool frequency were noted with the almond intervention. Microbiota was stable at the phylum and family level, but genus level changes occurred with nut intake, especially in children. No differences were observed for immune markers.
This study shows that incorporating almonds and/or almond butter into the diets of parents and their children is feasible, improved diet quality and resulted in changes in gut microbiota with potential beneficial characteristics, especially in children. Higher intakes of almonds over a longer period of time may be needed to demonstrate changes in immune status.
Nutrient intake was assessed using self-reported dietary recall data. In addition, parents completed diet and GI symptom records for their child, a technique which has not yet been validated. As most children attended school or daycare, it may have been difficult for parents to determine foods eaten away from home.
About California Almonds
California almonds are a natural, wholesome and nutrient-rich food -- high in vitamin E and magnesium, with 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber per one ounce (28-gram) serving. They’re grown by more than 6,500 growers in California’s Central Valley, which is the only region in the U.S. able to successfully grow almonds commercially. They’re the second most valuable crop in California, and in fact comprise 80 percent of the world’s almonds.
The majority of almond farms in California are fewer than 100 acres, and nearly 90 percent are family farms, many operated by third and fourth generation family growers. Back in 1950, almond growers decided to combine their resources to found and fund what is now the Almond Board of California, a non-profit Federal Marketing Order that operates under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Almond Board supports growers with a research-based approach to production and marketing. It has funded more than $42 million since 1973 in research related to almond production, quality and safety, nutrition, and environmental aspects of farming. This has led to a number of breakthroughs and a spirit of continual improvement that has helped almond growers be increasingly efficient, productive and responsible with their valuable resources. To learn more about the Almond Board’s leadership in water efficiency, waste reuse, carbon reduction, bee health and more, visit its blog, and to learn more about almonds, visit almonds.com or almondsustainability.org.
- Burns AM, Zitt MA, Rowe CC. Langkamp-Henken B, Volker M, Nieves Jr. C, Ukhanova M, Christman MC, Dahl WJ. Diet quality improves for parents and children when almonds are incorporated into their daily diet: a randomized, crossover study, Nutrition Research 2016; 36(1): 80-89.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. 7th Edition ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office; 2010.
- One serving of almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat.
- What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012, individuals 2 years and over (excluding breast-fed children). Available: www.ars.usda.gov/nea/bhnrc/fsrg.
- Almonds: Nutrition and Scientific Research Summary, updated August 2015; http://www.almonds.com/sites/default/files/misc/HP/Documents/almonds_nutrition_and_scientific_research_updated_august_2015.pdf
- Vitality Study, Sterling-Rice Group, 2015. SRG conducted a study among 1,013 U.S. consumers to determine how a person’s orientation toward health and wellness impacts their grocery shopping and restaurant choices. Consumers who said they purchase and eat almonds had the highest vitality scores. In fact, among the 105 foods included in the survey, almonds were the food most strongly associated with healthy lifestyles and other attributes of wellness, including satisfaction with current weight, enjoyment of cooking meals, and preference for other nutritious foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, granola, hummus, almond milk, smoothies, and wellness bars.
- In a recent study, researchers used a method different than the traditional way to measure the calories in almonds and found they have about 20% fewer calories than originally thought. Novotny JA et al. Discrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 96(2): 296-301.
- Good news about almonds and heart health. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat.
- A very small percentage of the population, including children, cannot enjoy tree nuts like almonds because of an allergic sensitivity. If your child has existing food allergies or sensitivities, please consult your doctor or other medical professional prior to feeding them almond or any tree nut for the first time.