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Reduce the risk of heart disease

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Almonds can help you combat cardiovascular risk factors, according to a recent scientific review

Southeast Asians, and especially Indians, are genetically predisposed to heart disease, according to Dr. Soumik Kalita, lead author of a new scientific review. The study, published in the journal Nutrients, observes that the higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) among Indians is characterised by elevated levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lower levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.

“There are multiple risk factors for CVD,” Dr Kalita says. “Smoking and a diet that does not contain enough fruit and vegetables are among them.” Lack of physical activity, poor dietary habits such as diets rich in sugar, salt and saturated fats are responsible for conditions such as abdominal obesity and insulin resistance, which are now more common among Indians. “But you can help yourself by modifying these risk factors and reducing bad cholesterol,” Dr Kalita adds. “Start walking, eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Cardiovascular diseases account for 28 per cent of all deaths in India, more than any other cause, Dr Kalita explains. The study in Nutrients also suggests that daily inclusion of almonds as part of a healthy diet may help reduce dyslipidemia, one of the most important risk factors for CVD among Indians. Dyslipidemia is a condition marked by high LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels and low HDL cholesterol levels.  

“Daily consumption of 45 grams of almonds can help reduce dyslipidemia,” Dr Kalita adds. How many almonds is that? Thirty grams would be 23 almonds, says an Almond Board of Californai spokesperson.

Typically, dietary strategies to reduce harmful LDL-cholesterol, such as decreasing saturated fat, also reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol, but that is not the case with almonds. The review, which examined the breadth of studies on almonds and blood lipid levels, showed that eating almonds results in significant reductions in total cholesterol and harmful LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while having no impact on beneficial HDL-cholesterol levels,” Dr. Kalita remaks.

According to the Almond Board of California, which funded this review, numerous studies worldwide have shown that almonds have the potential to help improve blood cholesterol levels. The health benefits of almonds are thought to be due to their fat profile (predominantly mono- and poly-unsaturated fats i.e. good fats), antioxidant vitamin E, dietary fibre, and other important nutrients.

“To put it into perspective, cholesterol is not all bad. HDL, in fact, has protective properties and reduces the risk of heart disease. A large multi-centre study done in India estimated that nearly 72% of Indians have low HDL-C levels, the study notes. It adds that according to the Indian Heart Association, every 10-point increase in HDL-C may reduce the risk of heart disease by half. “Many clinical studies, including those in the review and several among Indian populations specifically, have shown the role of almonds in lowering LDL-cholesterol levels.  Studies have also looked at the effect of almonds on beneficial HDL cholesterol, with results showing that consumption of almonds can help maintain or even increase levels.” says Dr. Kalita.

In addition to other nutrition studies, the review also included a study conducted in India that showed the inclusion of almonds in daily diets contributed towards reduced abdominal fat which is known to be a major factor in metabolic syndrome and ischemic heart disease (IHD)

Among others, the review paper is co-authored by Dr. B. Sesikeran and Dr. Kamala Krishnaswamy, both of whom have served as former directors of the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.

Dr Shweta Khandelwal, a trained public health nutritionist at the Public Health Foundation of India, Dr. Jagmeet Madan, Principal and professor on food, nutrition and dietrics at the Sir Vithaldas Thackersey College of Home Science, SNDT University and Dr. Himanshu Pandya, professor of medicine and medical education at the Pramukhswami Medical College, Gujarat, are also on the review panel.

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