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The Dieter's Best Friends Series: Top Ten Foods for Appetite Control--Part 1

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#1 Almonds

This is the first in a series of blogs that introduces ten of my favorite foods to help curb the appetite. Just as many foods wreak havoc with our blood sugar and insulin levels (think pasta, bagels and chips), certain foods actually help to stabilize blood sugar. In addition, these appetite-stimulating foods also promote the formation of compounds that accelerate aging in the skin and other organs. These compounds, known as Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs for short) are highly destructive to the body.

Almond Joy

Ironically, many of the foods that promote AGE formation also increase appetites, such as foods made with flour, sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup. The good news is that there are delicious foods that actually help us to control our appetite, and one of my favorites is almonds. While it might seem strange to think that nuts can actually help us to lose weight (the prevailing wisdom is that nuts are "fattening"), the fact is they can and do.

Because they are rich in the good fats, almonds have a high satiety factor. That is, they help us to feel full, which also helps us to eat less. However, there are other key reasons as to why and how almonds are one of a dieter's best friends.

Almonds are rich in manganese, an important mineral that offers many benefits including the regulation of blood sugar, protection of the cells from free radical damage, keeping the thyroid gland operating properly and helping to maintain strong, healthy bones.

Almonds also contain magnesium, which eases anxiety, stabilizes mood, decreases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to disrupt sleep and promote the increase of abdominal fat, and prevents metabolic changes that may contribute to heart attacks and strokes. Magnesium also helps us to metabolize carbohydrates and influences the release and activity of insulin.

Almonds--Nature's Carb Insurance

Exciting studies from Canada help to explain, at least in part, how almonds curb appetites and decrease the negative effects of eating foods with a high glycemic index.

A team at the University of Toronto reports that eating almonds can decrease our glycemic (blood-sugar) and insulin responses to high-carbohydrate meals (Jenkins DJ, et al., 2006), the factors that increase appetite. This finding is very exciting because if we decrease these responses, we will decrease appetite along with AGE formation.

As study co-author Cyril Kendall said, "Almonds have already been found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and contain a variety of important nutrients. This new research shows that incorporating almonds into the diet may help in the management of blood glucose levels and the onset of such illnesses as diabetes, while promoting a healthy heart."

Remember this key fact: AGE formation is directly related to high blood glucose levels.

The researchers recruited 15 healthy volunteers (seven men, eight women) and tested the effects of five meals, eaten on five different occasions, on the levels of glucose, insulin and antioxidants in their blood. The subjects ate two control meals that included bread, and three test meals: almonds and bread, parboiled rice and instant mashed potatoes. All the meals had identical carbohydrate, fat and protein content. Butter and cheese were used to adjust the proportions of each.

The almonds and bread meal included 60 grams (two ounces) of almonds.

As expected, the glycemic indices (rises in blood sugar) following the rice meals and almonds-added meals were much lower than the indices following the potato meal: glycemic indices of 38 and 55 versus 94, respectively.

In the meals that contained the almonds, the researchers also noted that there was a reduction in the markers of free radical damage in the volunteers' blood, attributed most likely to the very high antioxidant content of almond skins.

As the authors wrote, "These actions may relate to mechanisms by which nuts are associated with a decreased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease]."

It might not always be practical to consume two ounces (about a handful) of almonds with every high-carb meal, but that isn't the point. Instead, the purpose of the study was to see whether almonds are anti-glycemic, and they certainly proved to be that. And as we have learned, anti-glycemic is also anti-AGEs.

So add a few almonds to the dietary picture when you can. This is especially important if you eat a meal that has high glycemic carbs, such as bread, pasta, potatoes, baked goods, and so forth.

Besides being a healthier and tastier breadcrumb substitute, you can add sliced or chopped almonds to green beans for the classic green beans almandine. I also add almonds to stir-fries and salads; sprinkle them on old-fashioned oatmeal, salads or yogurt; and enjoy them with an apple and a slice of cheese as a snack. Raw, organic almond butter is also a healthier and better-tasting alternative to peanut butter.

As an active researcher, I welcome your comments and suggestions.