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A study shows that eating a handful of almonds a day can significantly increase the production of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that promotes gut health.
A team of researchers from King’s College London investigated the effect of whole and ground almonds on the composition of gut microbes. The study, published Saturday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was funded by the Almond Board of California.
The gut microbiome consists of thousands of microorganisms living in the gut that play an important role in digesting nutrients and can have a positive or negative impact on our health, including our digestive and immune systems.
The mechanisms of how gut microbiomes impact human health are still being investigated, but evidence suggests that eating specific types of food can affect the types of bacteria in our gut or what they do in our gut.
The researchers recruited 87 healthy adults who were already eating less than the recommended amount of dietary fiber and snacking on typical unhealthy snacks. They were divided into three groups: one group swapped their snacks for 56g of whole almonds a day, another for 56g of ground almonds a day, and the control group ate energy-matched muffins as a control. The trial lasted four weeks.
Researchers found that butyrate was significantly higher among almond eaters compared to those who consumed the muffins. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is the main fuel source for the cells in the colon. When these cells are working efficiently, it provides an ideal environment for gut microbes to flourish, for the gut wall to be strong and not leaky or inflamed, and for nutrients to be absorbed.
No significant difference was observed in gut transit time – the time it takes for food to move all the way through the gut – but almond eaters had 1.5 more bowel movements per week compared to the other groups. These findings suggest that eating almonds may also benefit those with constipation.
The test showed that eating whole and ground almonds improved people’s diets, with higher intakes of monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, potassium and other important nutrients compared to the control group.
Lead author Professor Kevin Whelan, Head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London, said: “Part of the way the gut microbiota affects human health is through the production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate. These molecules act as a fuel source for cells in the colon, they regulate the absorption of other nutrients in the gut and help balance the immune system. We believe these findings suggest that almond consumption may benefit bacterial metabolism in a way that has the potential to impact human health.”
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