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Almonds help hearts

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Just about everyone's nuts about almonds.

First, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced a health claim for almonds and several other nuts, saying: "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."

One and a half ounces equals 1/3 cup, or about 34 almonds.

Then, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study about almonds' significant role in a cholesterol-lowering eating plan that works as well as a starting dose of cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to a news release.

This "Portfolio" eating plan was created by the University of Toronto.

Patients in the "Portfolio" eating plan study ate a menu of foods low in saturated fat and high in plant sterols, such as almonds, soy burgers, oat bran, beans and other heart-healthy foods.

Comparison groups either ate a low-fat diet or combined a low-fat diet with lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug. In four weeks, both the people taking the lovastatin and the people eating almonds and foods high in plant sterols lowered their cholesterol by about 30 percent.

Scientists have known about almonds' heart-healthy benefits for many years.

A 1.5-ounce handful of almonds is a great source of vitamin E and magnesium and offers protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and iron in 246 calories.

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