Research has shown that 20% to 43% of college freshmen report skipping breakfast, by far the most frequently skipped meal among this group.1 2 3 4 That’s an unfortunate statistic, because daily breakfast consumption among US adults may decrease the risk of adverse effects related to glucose and insulin metabolism, according to a scientific statement by the American Heart Association.5
Knowing these risks, UC Merced nutrition researcher Professor Rudy Ortiz and postdoctoral fellow Jaapna Dhillon looked into the potential impact of almonds as a morning snack for college students who opt to skip breakfast.
The research team recruited 73 UC Merced students age 18-19 and randomly assigned them to one of two groups: one group snacked on almonds as a mid-morning snack and the second group snacked on graham crackers. Ortiz and Dhillon monitored key metabolic indicators, like HDL (“good” cholesterol), body mass index (BMI) and blood glucose levels in both groups over the course of eight weeks.
Study At A Glance
The Study: In an 8-week randomized controlled, parallel-arm invention, 73 healthy college students (41 women, 32 men) consumed either a snack of dry roasted almonds (56.7 g/day; 320 calories) or graham crackers (77.5 g/day; 338 calories). Changes were assessed from fasting serum/plasma samples at baseline and after 4 and 8 weeks. Acute effects were assessed during a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) at 8 weeks.
Results: Almond snacking resulted in a smaller decline in HDL cholesterol over 8 weeks (13.5% vs 24.5%, p<0.05), 13% lower 2-hour glucose area under the curve (AUC), 34% lower insulin resistance index (IRI) and 82% higher Matsuda index (p<0.05) during the OGTT, when compared with the creacker group. Both groups had similar modest body mass gains over 8 weeks. In general, both almond and cracker snacking reduced fasting glucose and LDL cholesterol.
- The lack of a “no morning snack” group is a limitation that precludes assessment of breakfast skipping physiological responses. However, other studies have previously demonstrated the physiological effects of breakfast skipping among various populations.5
- Although the body mass gained in both groups was mostly fat-free mass (0.6 kg), the limitations of bioelectrical impedance analysis in accurately assessing body composition, particularly in individuals with obesity and the limitation of accelerometers in assessing activity during strength training should be considered while interpreting this finding.
- Researchers did not conduct the same 5-time point OGTT prior to the intervention, as done at 8 weeks for a pre-post intervention assessment. However, there were no differences in baseline fasting insulin sensitivity between groups.
- The 7-day spring break that immediately followed the mid-point of the intervention was a limitation. However, the lack of remarkable differences at week 4 that were ultimately captured at week 8 implies that the impact of such an interruption at the mid-point were not profound.
Conclusion: Incorporating a morning snack in the dietary regimen of predominantly breakfast-skipping, first-year college students had some beneficial effects on glucoregulatory and cardiometabolic health. Almond consumption has the potential to benefit postprandial glucoregulation in this cohort. These responses may be influenced by cardiometabolic risk factor status.
1Pendergast FJ, Livingstone KM, Worsley A, McNaughton SA. Correlates of meal skipping in young adults: a systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2016; 13
2Huang Y-L, Song WO, Schemmel RA, Hoerr SM. What do college students eat? Food selection and meal pattern. Nutr Res. 1994; 14:1143-1153.
3Heatherton T, Nichols P, Mahamedi F, Keel P. Body weight, dieting and eating disorder symptoms among college students, 1982- 1992. Am J Psychiatry. 1995; 152:1623-1629.
4Driskell JA, Kim Y-N, Goebel KJ. Few differences found in the typical eating and physical activity habits of lower-level and upper-level university students. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005; 105:798-801.
5St-Onge M-P, Ard J, Baskin M, Chiuve SE, Johnson HM, Kris-Etherton P, Varady K. Meal timing and frequency: implications for cardiovascular disease prevention: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017; 135:e96-e121. Doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000476.