Just a handful of almonds a day may help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

“Research shows that a diet high in heart-healthy foods like almonds can reduce cholesterol levels as much as statin drugs such as lovastatin and mevastatin,” said Susan Mills-Gray.

In addition to helping with cholesterol levels, almonds are one of the richest sources of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. Almonds are a rich source of riboflavin, magnesium, manganese and copper.

A study published in 2005 in the Journal of Nutrition showed that consuming whole almonds, including the skin, doubles the antioxidant intake. A 2010 study suggests that almonds may also help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Just one ounce—about 22 almonds—packs more protein than an egg and contains more than three grams of dietary fiber, Mills-Gray said. “The high protein content staves off hunger.”

Shelled almonds may be whole, sliced or slivered with skin on, or blanched with the skin removed.  “Look for dry-roasted almonds that contain no additional ingredients like sugar or preservatives,” she said.

Almonds are high in calories, so eat in moderation, she added.

Store almonds in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place to prevent them from going rancid and absorbing odors of other foods.  Refrigerated almonds will last several months. Frozen almonds will keep for up to a year.