MayoClinic.com ranks nuts as one of five top foods to lower your cholesterol, so you can put almonds on your heart-healthy food list. But almonds, like most nuts, contain a lot of calories. If you eat too many and gain weight, you could raise your cholesterol levels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that you eat a handful of almonds or other nuts daily.
An ounce of almonds -- about 23 nuts -- contains 163 calories. Almonds make a good source of plant-based protein, with 6 g per ounce. A serving of almonds also provides 6 g of carbohydrate, 14 g of fat and 3.5 g of fiber. Almonds are high in fat -- a 1-oz. serving contains more fat than 2 oz. of cheddar cheese -- but nearly all of the fat in almonds comes from unsaturated fat, which can help improve your cardiovascular health. The unsaturated fat in cheese can raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
Protein and Saturated Fat
To lower cholesterol, substitute almonds for some of the animal protein in your diet. You need about 5 oz. to 6 1/2 oz. of protein daily, depending on your gender, age and level of activity. A 1/2-oz. serving of almonds equals 1 oz. of animal protein. If you substituted 1 1/2 oz. of nuts for 3 oz. of hamburger, you would reduce your saturated fat intake by 4.4 g. A 1 1/2-oz. serving of almonds contains 1.6 g of saturated fat, compared to 6 g in 3 oz. of lean ground beef. A cholesterol-conscious diet limits saturated fat to 16 g to 22 g a day.
The fiber in almonds can also help you reduce your low-density lipoprotein -- LDL or "bad" -- cholesterol. It may also help you lose weight as high-fiber foods provide more satiety than low-fiber foods. This means that 1 oz. of almonds will probably fill you up more than 1 oz. of white bread, which contains 0.7 g of fiber per 1-oz. slice, or 1 oz. of any meat, which contains no fiber.
Although almonds provide a cholesterol-friendly amount of lean protein, fiber and healthy fat, it wouldn't prove prudent to make almonds your exclusive source for these nutrients. If, for instance, you used almonds alone to fulfill your daily protein requirement, you would add 815 to 1,059 calories to your diet. Include some lower-calorie, cholesterol-reducing foods in your diet as well. Good examples include raspberries, oatmeal, split peas and black beans.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Almonds, Raw
- University of California San Francisco Medical Center: Cholesterol Content of Foods
- U.S. Department of Agricuture, Choose My Plate: How Much Food From the Protein Foods Group Is Needed Daily?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Choose My Plate: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?
- MayoClinic.com; Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet; November 2009