During American Heart Month, a new study adds to the body of research on almonds' healthy heart and weight benefits.

Crunchy, handy almonds have been sighted in many new breakfast, snack, and salad products as research continues to show their healthful qualities. So, when you're perusing the supermarket aisles during American Heart Month (February) or National Nutrition Month (March), consider these three reasons almonds fit the bill as a perfect nutritional "boost" to meals and snacks:

1) New research supports almonds' ability to lower cholesterol. A study to be published Monday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provides more evidence that almonds are one of the most heart-healthy foods around.

The study finds that when directly compared to first-generation statins, a certain heart-healthy dietary approach including almonds is just as effective in lowering LDL, or "bad," cholesterol below the recommended range for heart disease prevention.

The approach, known as the "Portfolio" eating plan because it includes a variety of heart-healthy foods, included foods such as oatmeal, beans, olive oil, soy products, and a daily one-ounce handful of almonds. Researchers called almonds a "mini-Portfolio" because in and of themselves, they contain several components emphasized in the eating plan -- vegetable protein, fiber, plant sterols and other several heart-healthy nutrients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all American adults have cholesterol levels higher than they should be.

2) Almonds are nutritionally dense -- a quality emphasized in the government's latest Dietary Guidelines. Almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut, whether compared calorie per calorie or ounce per ounce. The recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 encourage Americans to choose nutritionally dense foods -- that is, to get the most nutrition possible out of the calories you eat. A one-ounce, 164-calorie serving of almonds, or about a handful, is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, and a good source of fiber. It also offers heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron.

In fact, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition last fall, individuals who added almonds as a snack to their regular diet increased their overall intake of several important nutrients. The study's researchers, from Loma Linda University in California, concluded that incorporating almonds into a diet may promote the natural displacement of less nutrient-dense foods, making the overall nutritional quality of the diet better.

3) Eating almonds may help maintain or even lose weight. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that adding a daily ration of almonds to a low-calorie diet enhanced weight loss, as well as significantly improved risk factors associated with heart disease, when compared to a low-fat, low-calorie diet. Researchers cited almonds' heart-healthy monounsaturated fat as being very satiating, helping satisfy the appetite and prevent patients from overeating.

4) Almonds are tasty, satisfying and versatile. Whether added to low-fat yogurt, included in a healthy trail mix, or munched on their own, almonds have a toasty crunch that's perfect for any time of day, and for many other foods.

For more information

The Almond Board of California has responded to the new Portfolio Eating Plan study's positive results involving almonds by creating a patient and health professional website with more information on the Portfolio eating plan, including study abstracts, menus used by the research team, meal ideas and recipes. Visit http://www.PortfolioEatingPlan.com. For other information on almonds, visit http://www.AlmondsAreIn.com.