MODESTO, Calif., Aug. 13, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- For parents sending their 18 year-old off to college for the first time, concerns about the food choices their young adults will make once out on their own are real. New and less healthy eating patterns tend to be the norm for those transitioning to college life.1 In fact, research has shown that 20 to 43% of college freshmen report skipping breakfast, by far the most frequently skipped meal among this group.2 3 4 5 That's an unfortunate statistic, because daily breakfast consumption may decrease cardiometabolic risk factors including blood sugar and insulin metabolism.6
A new study from researchers at the University of California Merced, funded by the Almond Board of California and published in the journal Nutrients, suggests that for those college students who do skip breakfast, a morning snack of almonds — the ultimate easy, grab-and-go snack — is a smart option.7
Among predominantly breakfast-skipping college freshmen, including a morning snack – either of almonds or graham crackers – reduced total cholesterol and improved fasting blood sugar levels. But the benefits were greater with almonds. Those who snacked on almonds better preserved HDL (good) cholesterol levels and improved measures of the body's ability to regulate blood sugar over the course of the eight-week study.
In the study, 73 healthy, first-year college students (41 women and 32 men) were randomly assigned to one of two snacking groups:
- Almond group, which ate 56 grams (about 2 ounces) of dry roasted almonds, totaling 320 calories, per day
- Graham cracker group, which ate 77.5 grams (5 sheets) of graham crackers, totaling 338 calories, per day
Over the eight-week study period, consumption of the assigned snack was supervised by researchers except on weekends and spring break, when compliance was monitored via text. Study participants tracked their calorie and nutrient intake using a validated 24-hour food frequency questionnaire.
Results showed that those in the almond group had better measures of several glucoregulatory and cardiometabolic health indicators, including:
- 13% lower 2-hour glucose area under the curve (AUC)
- 34% lower insulin resistance index (IRI)
- 82% higher Matsuda index during oral glucose tolerance testing, which represents a gross estimation of insulin sensitivity. This index almost doubled among the almond snackers.
- Better protection of HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Both groups saw reductions in HDL cholesterol, but the almond snackers' levels fell by 13.5% compared to a 24.5% in graham cracker snackers.
"This study, the first among a college student population, shows that for those who skip breakfast, almonds are a good snack choice," says Rudy Ortiz, PhD, lead researcher of the study. "For almonds to double the Matsuda index over an 8-week period is profound, especially in a young, healthy population, illustrating the benefit in insulin sensitivity that almonds may provide. And almonds' effect on several of the other glucoregulatory and cardiometabolic health parameters shows their potential as a smart snack, particularly in this group."
Results also showed that both groups gained a minimal amount of body mass over the course of the study, but that's not surprising. New college students are prone to modest weight gain.8 9 Several studies suggest that weight gain in college is associated with a decrease in physical activity.10 11 12 Despite the minimal increase in body mass observed in this study, fasting blood sugar decreased over the eight-week trial, indicating benefits to including a morning snack – either almonds or graham crackers – in this population. Both groups also had similar beneficial decreases in harmful LDL cholesterol levels.
Study At A Glance
The Study: In an 8-week randomized controlled, parallel-arm invention, 73 healthy college students (41 women, 32 men) consumed either a snack of dry roasted almonds (56.7 g/day; 320 calories) or graham crackers (77.5 g/day; 338 calories). Changes were assessed from fasting serum/plasma samples at baseline and after 4 and 8 weeks. Acute effects were assessed during a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) at 8 weeks.
Results: Almond snacking resulted in a smaller decline in HDL cholesterol over 8 weeks (13.5% vs 24.5%, p<0.05), 13% lower 2-hour glucose area under the curve (AUC), 34% lower insulin resistance index (IRI) and 82% higher Matsuda index (p<0.05) during the OGTT, when compared with the cracker group. Both groups had similar modest body mass gains over 8 weeks. In general, both almond and cracker snacking reduced fasting glucose and LDL cholesterol.
- The lack of a "no morning snack" group is a limitation that precludes assessment of breakfast skipping physiological responses. However, other studies have previously demonstrated the physiological effects of breakfast skipping among various populations.6
- Although the body mass gained in both groups was mostly fat-free mass (0.6 kg), the limitations of bioelectrical impedance analysis in accurately assessing body composition, particularly in individuals with obesity, and the limitation of accelerometers in assessing activity during strength training should be considered while interpreting this finding.
- Researchers did not conduct the same 5-time point OGTT prior to the intervention, as done at 8 weeks for a pre-post intervention assessment. However, there were no differences in baseline fasting insulin sensitivity between groups.
- The 7-day spring break that immediately followed the mid-point of the intervention was a limitation. However, the lack of remarkable differences at week 4 that were ultimately captured at week 8 implies that the impact of such an interruption at the mid-point was not profound.
Conclusion: Incorporating a morning snack in the dietary regimen of predominantly breakfast-skipping, first-year college students had some beneficial effects on glucoregulatory and cardiometabolic health. Almond consumption has the potential to benefit postprandial glucoregulation in this cohort. These responses may be influenced by cardiometabolic risk factor status.
About California Almonds
Almonds from California are a healthy, natural and wholesome snack that can help people own their everyday, every day. The Almond Board of California promotes almonds through its research-based approach to all aspects of marketing, farming and production on behalf of the more than 6,800 almond growers and 101 processors in California, many of whom are multi-generational family operations. Established in 1950 and based in Modesto, California, the Almond Board of California is a non-profit organization that administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture. For more information on the Almond Board of California or almonds, visit Almonds.com or check out California Almonds on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the California Almonds blog.
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8 Vadeboncoeur et al. A meta-analysis of weight gain in first year university students: Is freshman 15 a myth? BMC Obes. 2015, 2.
9 Crombie et al. The freshman weight gain phenomenon revisited. Nutr Rev. 2009; 67: 83-94.
10 Jung ME, Bray SR, Martin Ginis KA. Behavior change and the freshman 15: tracking physical activity and dietary patterns in 1st year university women. J Am Coll Health. 2008; 56:523-530.
11 Butler SM, Black DR, Blue CL, Gretebeck RJ. Change in diet, physical activity and body weight in female college freshmen. Am J Health Behav. 2004; 28:24-32.
12 Wengreen HJ, Moncur C. Change in diet, physical activity and body weight among young adults during the transition from high school to college. Nutr J. 2009; 8:32.
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