New Study Demonstrates That Snack Swaps with Almonds Could Lead to Huge Nutrition Benefits
Eating almonds and other tree nuts in place of empty-calorie snacks is associated with improvement in nutrient intakes and overall healthy eating scores
A new study that evaluated the potential effects of replacing typical snack foods with almonds and other tree nuts shows that this simple swap would decrease empty calories, solid fats, saturated fat and sodium in the diet, while increasing intake of key nutrients. The study, funded by the Almond Board of California and conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, was published in Nutrition Journal.
- Cookies and brownies, ice cream and frozen dairy desserts, cakes and pies, and candy containing chocolate were the predominant sources of snack calories under both models.
- Potato chips, pastries, popcorn, cheese, bread, apples, pretzels, bananas, cereal and cereal bars, yogurt and cold cuts each contributed more than 1% of snack calories.
Replacing between-meal snacks with tree nuts or almonds led to more nutrient-rich diets that were lower in empty calories and sodium and had more favorable fatty acid profiles. Food pattern modeling using NHANES data can be used to assess the likely nutritional impact of dietary guidance.
This study demonstrates the potential benefits of replacing typically consumed American snacks with almonds and other tree nuts, and echoes findings from a similar NHANES analysis on almond eaters.
This study, published in Food and Nutrition Sciences and also funded by the Almond Board, examined the characteristics of almond eaters and found that people who reported eating almonds had higher intake of key nutrients (such as dietary fiber, calcium, potassium and iron, as well as higher intakes of several other “shortfall nutrients” including vitamins A, D, E, and C; folate; and magnesium), better overall diet quality (measured by Healthy Eating Index scores), and lower body mass index and waist circumference compared to non-consumers. Almond consumers (defined as those eating about 1 ounce (28g) per day) tended to be more physically active and less likely to smoke than their non-almond eating counterparts, suggesting that including almonds as a regular part of the diet is associated with a portfolio of healthy lifestyle attributes.
- Cookies and brownies, ice cream and frozen dairy desserts, cakes and pies, and candy containing chocolate were the predominant sources of snack calories under both models. Potato chips, pastries, popcorn, cheese, bread, apples, pretzels, bananas, cereal and cereal bars, yogurt and cold cuts all contributed more than 1% of snack calories.
- Under Model 1 (where tree nuts hypothetically replaced all snack foods) and Model 2 (where tree nuts hypothetically replaced only less-healthy snack foods), empty calories declined by 20.1% and 18.7%, solid fats by 21.0% and 19.3%, saturated fats by 6.6% and 7.1% and added sugars by 17.8% and 16.9%. Consumption of oils (+65.3% and 55.2%), polyunsaturated fats (+42.0% and 35.7%), alpha-linolenic acid (+53.1% and 44.7%) and monounsaturated fats (+35.4% and 29.6%) increased significantly. Total fat intake increased under both Model 1 and 2 (+20.5% vs. +16.8%), however, the proportion of mono- and polyunsaturated to saturated fat was greatly improved. Consumption of carbohydrates fell significantly (-13% vs. -10%) and protein increased by a small margin (+2.6% vs. +1.7%). Sodium consumption also dropped by 12.3% and 11.2%, fiber increased by 11.1% and 14.8% and magnesium increased by 29.9% and 27.0%, respectively.
- The percent of the population meeting sodium (<2300 mg/day) and dietary fiber (>25 g/day) recommendations improved. For sodium, the percent meeting recommendations nearly doubled from 11.7% (observed) to 21.6 and 20.4% in Models 1 and 2. For dietary fiber, the percent meeting recommendations increased from 10.7% to 15.9% and 18.8%, respectively.
- Looking at the data by age group, decreases in consumption of empty calories, solid fats and added sugars were observed for all groups, though the nut substitution appeared most impactful for children 4-8y and 9-13y since these groups were most likely to choose candy/confectionary as snacks.
- The mean Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score was 58.5. Both models resulted in higher HEI scores: 67.8 for Model 1 and 69.7 for Model 2 (which speaks to the importance of dietary variety). HEI scores were higher in both models for all age groups, but was particularly important among children and adolescents due to low HEI baseline values and lower quality snacks.
- Results were similar when the same analyses were done using almonds only as the substitution.
- The similarity in results was to be expected since almonds represented 44% of tree nuts consumed, and thus were weighted as 44% of the composite tree nut data used for the all-nut modeling analyses.