A new study from the University of Toronto suggests that eating a healthy diet, including almonds, reduces inflammation by about the same level as taking a first-generation statin drug.

The study, published this month in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that following a dietary portfolio that includes almonds not only lowers cholesterol levels, but also C-reactive protein levels, a key marker of inflammation and an independent risk factor for heart disease.

So the next time you are in the supermarket aisle, consider how almonds can give your heart a break:

Almonds help reduce inflammation of blood vessels. Inflammation is bad for your heart. It increases your risk of developing atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), and studies suggest a strong association between inflammation and risk of cardiovascular disease. A dietary pattern that reduces inflammation and cholesterol can truly be called "heart healthy."

The liver, in response to inflammation, produces C-reactive protein. As inflammation increases, so do levels of C-reactive protein.

In this study, 34 individuals followed a dietary plan, called the Portfolio Eating Plan, which included almonds. Those who followed the dietary plan lowered their C-reactive protein levels 24 percent from baseline, which is similar to the reduction achieved by taking a first-generation statin drug (16 percent) — without the side effects of taking the pills.

"Inflammation is likely to receive increasing attention as a marker of heart disease risk," says Cyril Kendall, Ph.D., University of Toronto and study author. "To date there has been little research into the ability of diet to reduce inflammatory processes involved in heart disease. We now have a dietary strategy that may be used to not only reduce cholesterol but also inflammation."

Lower cholesterol

Almonds as part of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol lowering foods may lower your cholesterol as much as a statin drug. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February 2005 examined this same study group found that when directly compared to first-generation statins, the Portfolio Eating Plan diet, including almonds, is just as effective in lowering LDL, or "bad," cholesterol below the recommended range for heart disease prevention.

Almonds are nutritionally dense – a quality emphasized in the government’s latest Dietary Guidelines. Ounce for ounce, almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut. The recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 encourage Americans to choose nutritionally dense foods – that is, to get the most nutrition possible out of the calories you eat. A one-ounce, 164-calorie serving of almonds, or about a handful, is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, and a good source of protein and fiber. It also offers heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron.

For more information: The Almond Board of California has responded to the new Portfolio Eating Plan study’s positive results involving almonds by creating a patient and health professional Web site with more information on the Portfolio Eating Plan, including study abstracts, menus used by the research team, meal ideas and recipes. Visit www.PortfolioEatingPlan.com. For other information on almonds, visit www.AlmondsAreIn.com.