The Energy Value of Almonds
~ April 2013 No.248 ~
Almonds are a tree fruit that were included in the qualified health claim approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to reduce blood LDL cholesterol. Reducing blood LDL cholesterol is believed to be desirable for those who are concerned about cardiovascular disease. To get the LDL lowering effect, it is recommended that you eat 23 whole almonds per day.
This good news about almonds was greeted with some caution by consumers because traditionally nuts have been considered a high energy food, and so were to be avoided, particularly by those worried about their weight. A check of a nutrient composition table shows that 23 almonds could be providing 163 Calories.
United States Food and Drug Administration Qualified Health Claim: "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." The claim was based on well-designed, dose response studies published showing almonds' role in lowering 'bad' cholesterol levels
The energy value of almonds, like most other foods, is based on the methods developed by Dr. W.O. Atwater and data published by Atwater and his colleagues over 100 years ago. The very small number of participants that Atwater used in his clinical studies, together with new advances in nutrient composition analysis techniques, has caused some researchers to question whether the tabulated Atwater energy values are accurate. It would appear that, for almonds at least, the commonly used energy value (expressed in Calories) may be too high.
In a scientific article recently published, a US research team used a highly controlled protocol to be able to more precisely measure the digestibility of almonds given to their participants. Using this data, the calculated energy value for almonds was found to be 32% lower than if the traditional Atwater method had been used. It would appear that the cellular structure of almonds prevents them from being totally broken down in the human GI tract. Some almond cells are not ruptured during mastication or by digestive enzymes. The lipid (fat) in these cells is not digested but passes out from the body in the faces. It is this low digestibility of the fat in almonds that contributes to the lower energy value of almonds.
So the good news for consumers is twofold: eat almonds because they are heart healthy, and in addition, don't worry as much about the energy content of almonds because it is probably lower than you think.
Discrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human diets
Am J Clin Nutr 2012,96:296-301