We knew they were good for you but not this good.
In the study, researchers had 49 people with high LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, complete two separate, six-week dietary experiments. In the first experiment, they ate a banana muffin each day.
In the second, they chowed down on 1.5 ounces of almonds instead, equaling about the same total calories as the muffin. Besides those snack choices, their diets were identical.
After both experiments, the researchers noticed a significant change regarding the participants’ "good" cholesterol: Eating the almonds instead of the muffin increased their alpha-HDL particles—the mature stage in which the particles are larger, meaning they can do their job better—by 19 percent, and improved their function by about 6 percent.
That’s important, since higher levels of HDL can protect you from heart disease.
In fact, previous research has shown that alpha-HDL levels are better at predicting heart issues than HDL levels overall.
Having more larger particles of HDL cholesterol instead of smaller ones shows that they’re more successful at pulling cholesterol from the body—which makes them bigger—and transporting it to the liver so it can be removed from the body, the researchers said in a statement.
That means it’s less likely to stick around in your blood, where it can lead to plaque buildup, potentially narrowing your arteries and causing blockages that can raise your risk of a heart attack.
One important note: The study authors disclosed that they received funding from the Almond Board of California for their research, who obviously have a vested interest in the benefits of almonds.
Still, in order to be published, the study underwent peer review by unbiased sources, and passed.
Plus, it’s not the first time that nuts have been linked to heart health: In fact, a study from earlier this year linked cashew consumption with lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
So don’t be afraid to eat a handful of nuts every day—there are a bunch of health benefits to it, as we reported in the past. Just don’t pop them down the hatch indiscriminately: The 1.5 ounces of almonds eaten in the study had 253 calories, so make sure you’re portioning them out beforehand.