LONDON — Our stomachs are anything but simple. The gut microbiome contains countless micro-organisms and bacteria that play a major role in digestive, immune, and overall health. In other words, what happens in the gut certainly does not stay there. Now, noteworthy new research indicates robust gut health is just a handful of almonds away.
Scientists at Kings College London have found that consuming almonds on a daily basis significantly increases the production of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid known to foster strong gut health. The research team investigated the impact of whole and ground almonds on the composition of gut microbes to reach these findings.
While we know the human gut is intricate and important, uncovering the exact mechanisms that determine how gut microbiomes impact health is still a work in progress for modern science. However, prior research does suggest that eating specific types of food can positively influence the types of bacteria in our gut or what they do in our stomachs.
The team at KCL set out to better understand the relationship between almond consumption and gut health outcomes. To that end, they recruited a group of 87 adults to participate in the study. Each person was already eating less than the recommended amount of dietary fiber and habitually snacked on unhealthy foods like cookies or chips.
Researchers divided the participants into three groups: one cohort started eating 56 grams of whole almonds per day instead of other, less healthy snacks. Another group started eating 56 grams of ground almonds daily and the third control group ate energy-matched muffins. The entire experiment lasted four weeks.
How does eating nuts keep the stomach healthy?
Sure enough, butyrate was significantly higher among participants who had been eating either whole or ground almonds. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that serves as the main source of fuel for colon cells. When these cells do their jobs properly, it creates “ideal conditions” for gut microbes to thrive, promoting a strong gut wall, minimal leakage or inflammation, and optimal nutrient absorption.
“Part of the way in which the gut microbiota impact 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 absorption of other nutrients in the gut, and help balance the immune system. We think these findings suggest almond consumption may benefit bacterial metabolism in a way that has the potential to influence human health,” says lead study author Professor Kevin Whelan, Head of Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London, in a university release.
The team did not find a notable difference in gut transit time — the amount of time required for food to pass through the gut. However, whole almond eaters did report an additional 1.5 bowel movements per week in comparison to the other groups. So, almonds may be helpful for those dealing with constipation.
Moreover, the study suggests eating either whole or ground almonds can also improve other dietary components. People that had been eating almonds also had higher intakes of monosaturated fatty acids, fiber, potassium and other important nutrients.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.