MODESTO, Calif. -- New nutrition research provides valuable insight into the long-term as well as the immediate short-term health impact of almonds.

A study published Friday in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating almonds may play a role in avoiding blood sugar spikes after consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal of foods that raise blood sugar levels. Additionally, eating almonds helps prevent oxidative stress.

"We found that eating almonds can have a significant impact in blunting the gylcemic and insulin responses of the body when fed with a carbohydrate meal," said co-author Dr. 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."

Refined carbohydrates such as white bread -- a popular staple of the American diet -- can significantly raise blood sugar levels in the body, which in turn releases harmful free radicals in the bloodstream. This can cause damage to cells, which is involved in the development of heart disease and diabetes.

Heart disease is the world's the number one cause of death, and high blood glucose causes three million deaths worldwide annually. With that in mind, new evidence is welcome on small, enjoyable lifestyle changes that can help make a big difference in one's health.

How the study worked

Researchers gave healthy men and women four different test meals, each containing 50 grams of carbohydrate. The control test meal contained white bread. The second meal contained white bread and 60 grams of almonds. The third meal contained parboiled rice, and the fourth meal contained instant mashed potatoes.

The parboiled rice and mashed potato meals were balanced with the almond meal for fat, protein, and total energy, with the addition of fat (unsalted butter), and protein (medium cheddar cheese). Participants ate the test meals on five different occasions and then had their blood drawn to check glucose, insulin and antioxidant levels.

The subjects who ate the almond meal and parboiled rice meal showed significantly lower rises in blood sugar afterwards. Further, the group who ate almonds showed the least amount of damage from free radicals in their blood samples.

The study may provide implications for weight management as well as heart health, as high blood sugar levels often lead to a feeling of hunger that prompts people to eat more than they should.

A one-ounce, 160-calorie handful of almonds is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, a good source of protein and fiber, and offers potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; the Canada Research Chair Endowment of the Federal Government of Canada; and the Almond Board of California.

The Almond Board of California administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the USDA. Established in 1950, the board's charge is to promote the best quality almonds, California's largest tree nut crop.

SOURCE: Almond Board of California via PR Newswire.