Including almonds in the diet may significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases in Indians with type 2 diabetes and improve their general health, a first-of-its-kind study released today here claims.
Almond consumption as part of a healthy diet may help improve glycemic and cardiovascular measures and lead to better health in type 2 diabetes patients, researchers said.
"India is known as the diabetes capital of the world, with incidence of type 2 diabetes currently reaching epidemic proportions," researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.
Once deemed a disease of the affluent, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes now cuts across all social, demographic and age groups, they said.
They attribute this higher and earlier incidence of type 2 diabetes in part to the "South Asian phenotype," a genetic predisposition that makes Indians more susceptible to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Dr Anoop Misra, Director, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, Diabetes Foundation India (DFI) and Dr Seema Gulati, Chief Project Officer (Nutrition) at DFI analysed if including almonds, already a familiar food in the Indian diet, may help improve glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes within an Indian population.
"This is the first free-living study to demonstrate the health benefits of including almonds in the diet among Asian Indians with type 2 diabetes," said Gulati, lead researcher for the study.
"Our findings add to the body of research showing the value of almonds, particularly among Indians who already believe in the goodness of almonds," Gulati said.
"Almonds are traditional snack for Indians; however, for the first time we have been able to prove its scientific allround benefits in patients with diabetes. We now have confidence in prescribing it to all patients as mid-meal healthy snacks," Misra added.
The researchers recruited adults in Delhi, aged 25 to 70, all of whom had type 2 diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels, to participate in the study.
During a three-week run-in period, participants ate a standard diet compliant with the dietary guidelines for Asian Indians and appropriate for diabetes.
During this period, participants were also asked to walk for 45 minutes at least five days a week to standardise their physical activity and were instructed to maintain the same level of activity for the rest of the study.
There were 50 participants who completed the study commissioned by the Almond Board of California in collaboration with DFI.
Following the run-in period, participants were instructed to substitute 20 per cent of their total caloric intake with whole, raw almonds (unblanched almonds with their brown skin intact).
Almonds were substituted for fat (such as cooking oil and butter) and some carbohydrate in this intervention diet which was followed for six months.
Researchers found a significant decrease in a number of critical risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, including waist circumference, waist-to-height ratio, total cholesterol, serum triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar regulation) and C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation in the body).
A wealth of research investigating almond consumption has shown cardiometabolic benefits like those found in this study.
Almonds add protein, fibre, "good" monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, potassium and magnesium to the diet, and are low on the glycemic index.
Previous studies have shown the benefits of almonds in improving the quality of the diet without increasing caloric intake, as well, researchers said.