Almonds have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Not only are almonds and their spin-offs, like almond milk, butter and flour, uber tasty, they're packed with health benefits, too.

This superfood has been cultivated and enjoyed as a part of a healthy, whole-foods-based diet for thousands of years. But the latest evidence in their corner comes from a new study that finds that eating almonds may help boost levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and reduce levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Researchers at Penn State compared HDL cholesterol levels and function in people who ate almonds every day to HDL levels in a group of people who ate a muffin instead. The researchers found that the people on the almond diet had improved levels of HDL and functionality.

“There's a lot of research out there that shows a diet that includes almonds lowers low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State. “But not as much was known about how almonds affect HDL cholesterol, which is considered good cholesterol and helps lower your risk of heart disease.”

The 2017 study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.

There’s more to love

Raw almonds in a bowl Almonds are full of antioxidants, and most of them are located in the skin. (Photo: vanillaechoes/Shutterstock.com)

In addition to their cholesterol-adjusting abilities, whole almonds are praised for their high nutrient density of:

  • Cancer-fighting micronutrients
  • Essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium
  • High protein content
  • Healthy fats

Almonds have the following daily values per serving, which is about 23 almonds (based on 2,000 calories a day):

  • 14 grams of fat (21 percent of your daily value)
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates (3 grams from fiber; 14 percent of your daily value of fiber)
  • 6 grams of protein (about 12 percent of your daily value)

Some discerning dieters might shriek at just a handful of almonds as having so much fat. But the fats in almonds are healthy fats that protect cell walls and possibly even help burn excess body fat.

Now for a look at some of almonds' other impressive numbers and how they benefit you:

  • Vitamin E: a whopping 37 percent of your daily value; good for cellular integrity and skin.
  • Riboflavin: 17 percent; aka vitamin B2, essential for proper metabolism and a host of other health benefits.
  • Manganese: 32 percent; makes bones healthy and strong.
  • Magnesium: 19 percent; increases energy and regulates blood pressure.
  • Phosphorous and copper: 14 percent of your daily value each; they help your body absorb other vitamins and are essential for growth and metabolism.

Now about those spin-offs...

A bottle of almond milk surrounded by almonds on a wooden surface If you can't drink dairy, almond milk is an option. (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

Some almond alternatives like almond milk, contain fortified nutrients. Many health experts say that whole foods are the best source of nutrition and that fortified foods are beneficial only if a person is having difficulty in obtaining the whole food source.

Also, while vegetarians delight in the high protein content of almond butter, almond butter is an incomplete protein, meaning it lacks all the essential amino acids and may be converted into carbohydrates. Combining it with another food that complements the amino acid profile will help vegetarians feel fuller for longer.

That doesn’t mean the almond alternatives don’t have their place. Some people who are allergic to certain foods will use almond-based products as alternatives.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in September 2011.