Satiety has been called the 'Holy Grail of nutrition' and is seen as a key target in the battle against obesity, with figures from Europe showing that up to 27 percent of men, 38 percent of women, and 3m children are clinically obese in some parts of the bloc.
The retail market for weight management products was estimated by Euromonitor International to be worth US$0.93bn (€0.73) in Europe in 2005 and $3.93bn in the US, indicating that call to slim down or face the health consequences is being heeded by a slice of the overweight population at least.
Foods marketed for satiety enhance feelings of fullness after eating, acting as a boost to a person's will-power and helping them avoid a reversion to old habits in a bid to stave off hunger pangs, or 'grazing' in between meals.
A new study, presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity: The Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting 2006, reports that eating a handful or two of almonds every day may fit into this category.
The new research, funded by the Almond Board of California, looked at the effect of supplementing the diet of 20 overweight women with two servings (300 calories) of almonds a day for ten weeks. The women were divided into two groups, one eating almonds for ten weeks and then no almonds, while the other ate no nuts for ten weeks and then the almonds.
At the end of the study, the researchers, led by Richard Mattes from Purdue University, found that there were no changes in energy intake or body weight after almond supplementation. No changes in body fat, body weight, and BMI were observed.
"We concluded that the women found their daily almond snack to be very filling, and so they naturally compensated in their caloric intake at other times of the day," said Mattes.
In other words, almond consumption could displace other foods from the diet, leading to a stable weight.
Another explanation, suggested the researchers, is that some of almonds' fat is not digested and absorbed so the estimated energy content listed on the food label is greater than the amount actually available to consumers.
The results need to be repeated in larger and longer intervention trials. Mechanistic studies are also needed to determine which compounds in the almonds could be exerting the potential satiating effect, and how this effect is achieved.
Demand for almonds has increased in recent years as the tastes of various almond-eating ethnic communities have expanded into more mainstream foods. And the almond boards have provoked greater consumption of the nut through better and more frequent marketing.
There is also growing demand from countries to which the US exports 75 per cent on its almonds, namely Europe - in particular Germany and Spain - and India, which buys nuts in their shells for direct consumption and shelling.
The US Department of Agriculture's agricultural exports forecast published last year revealed a total increase of $1.5bn from the revised 2005 estimate. Rising $600m, almonds account for nearly half the increase.