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Almond Board-Funded Research: Simple Swap-In of Almonds Can Add Up to Big Nutrition

Did you know that 92 percent of Americans snack sometime throughout the day,1 and, often, more than once? So when you think about it, your snacking choices can be key to making or breaking an eating pattern.

A recent study2 funded by the Almond Board of California (ABC) and published in Nutrition Journal modeled the effects of replacing typical snack foods with almonds and other tree nuts. It shows that with almonds’ rich nutrition, big nutrition benefits can be easily attained by making this simple swap.

The food pattern analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, shows that swapping nuts, such as almonds, in place of typical snack choices (according to government eating data), like cookies, ice cream, candy, and chips, results in a boost of fiber, magnesium, and good fats, along with a decrease in empty calories, added sugars, solid fats, saturated fat, and sodium in the diet.

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,3 which found that people who report eating almonds tend to have higher intake of key nutrients, better overall diet quality, and lower body mass index and waist circumference compared to non-almond eaters. 

Almond eaters (defined as those eating about 1 ounce or 28g per day) also 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. 

The nutrient profile of almonds – low on the glycemic index and providing a powerful nutrient package that includes hunger-fighting protein, filling fiber, good fats, and important vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium – makes them a satisfying snack choice that’s an ideal fit for healthy diets.

As this new study shows, the simple swap of replacing typical snack foods with almonds has the potential to improve nutrition among Americans.

ABC has publicized the study’s findings to media and health professionals, and it’s consistent with our current Carpe PM campaign, which encourages consumers to “seize the afternoon” by snacking on almonds instead of a less nutrient-rich choice. An afternoon energy slump is common – and again, it’s a “make or break” moment where you can fall prey to it and indulge cravings, or power through and be productive and energetic, thanks to almonds.

Study-at-a-Glance

Study Location:

U.S. - Epidemiological Study; review of U.S. NHANES (National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey) data

Study Population:

Children over 1 year and adults (n =17,444) from across the United States who participated in NHANES from 2009-2012.

Methodology:

  • All reported snacks eaten between meals were replaced calorie-for-calorie with a weighted tree nut composite, reflecting typical consumption patterns.
  • The tree nut composite took into account the relative frequency of tree nut consumption, with almonds making up 44% of the total tree nut intake. Walnuts, pecans, cashews and pistachios made up 20.8%, 8.8%, 7.6% and 6.9%, respectively.
  • Model 1 looked at the impact of replacing all snacks (except beverages) with tree nuts and was repeated with almonds only. Model 2 assessed the effects of replacing all but “healthy” snacks (including whole fruits, non-starchy vegetables and whole grains) with tree nuts and was repeated with almonds only.
  • The Healthy Eating Index-2010 (which measures adherence to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans) was used as a measure of diet quality. (A version of the HEI for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines is not yet available, but differences between foods and nutrients to encourage are minimal).

Limitations:

  • The study is epidemiological in nature and therefore cannot be used to determine cause and effect.
  • The study relied on self-reported dietary intake collected during 24-h dietary recalls.

Results:

Tree Nut Data

  • 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.

Almond-Only Data

  • 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.

Conclusion:

Replacing between-meal snacks with tree nuts or almonds led to more nutrient-rich diets. Food pattern modeling using NHANES data can be used to assess the likely nutritional impact of dietary guidance.

 


1Hartman Group. Hartbeat Special Edition: Spotlight on Snacking. March 15, 2016.
2Rehm CD and Drewnowski A. Replacing American snacks with tree nuts increases consumption of key nutrients among US children and adults: results of an NHANES modeling study. Nutrition Journal. 2017;16(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s12937-017-0238-5.
3O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni III VL. Almond Consumption Is Associated with Better Nutrient Intake, Nutrient Adequacy, and Diet Quality in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010. Food and Nutrition Sciences 2016; 7:504-515.