"We found that eating almonds can have a significant impact in blunting the glycemic and insulin responses of the body when fed with a carbohydrate meal," said study co-author Cyril Kendall from the University of Toronto.
"Almonds have already been found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and contain a variety of important nutrients," he said. "This new research shows that incorporating almonds in the diet may help in the management of blood glucose levels and the onset of such illnesses as diabetes, while promoting a healthy heart."
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year.
The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Nutrition, looked at the effects of five meals, eaten on five different occasions, on the blood glucose, insulin and antioxidant levels of 15 healthy volunteers (eight women).
The meals were: two control test meals with white bread, test meal with white bread plus 60 grams of almonds, test meal with parboiled rice, and test meal with instant mashed potatoes. All meals were balanced for carbohydrate, fat, and protein, using butter and cheese.
Lead researcher David Jenkins reported that glycaemic indices for the rice and almond meals were significantly less than for the potato meal (38 and 55 versus 94, respectively).
Serum protein thiol concentrations were measured to gauge the level of oxidative protein damage - increased levels associated with less damage. Jenkins and his co-workers report that, following the almond meal, thiol concentrations increased (15 mmol/L), while decreases were observed following the control bread, rice, and potato meals.
"Therefore, lowering postprandial glucose excursions may decrease the risk of oxidative damage to proteins. Almonds are likely to lower this risk by decreasing the glycaemic excursion and by providing antioxidants," said the researchers.
"These actions may relate to mechanisms by which nuts are associated with a decreased risk of CHD."
Demand for almonds has increased in recent years as the tastes of various almond-eating ethnic communities have expanded into more mainstream foods. And the almond boards have provoked greater consumption of the nut through better and more frequent marketing.
There is also growing demand from countries to which the US exports 75 per cent on its almonds, namely Europe - in particular Germany and Spain - and India, which buys nuts in their shells for direct consumption and shelling.
The US Department of Agriculture's agricultural exports forecast published last year revealed a total increase of $1.5bn from the revised 2005 estimate. Rising $600m, almonds account for nearly half the increase.
Source: The Journal of Nutrition December 1, 2006."Almonds Decrease Postprandial Glycemia, Insulinemia, and Oxidative Damage in Healthy Individuals" Authors: D.Jenkins, C. Kendall, A. Josse, S. Salvatore, F. Brighenti, L. Augustin, P. Ellis, E. Vidgen, A.V. Rao.
The study was funded by the Almond Board of California, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Canada Research Chair Endowment of the Federal Government of Canada.