Health Benefits of Almonds & Nutrition (Superfood Series)

Almonds are well established as superfood: in this article we outline the top health benefits of almonds and their nutrition profile.

Description And History

almonds-superfoodWith records of cultivation dating back as far as the early bronze age around 3,000 B.C, almonds have had a place in human history for thousands of years (1,2).

In fact, almonds have found immortal solace in the histories of many cultures with their use well documented across the mediterranean and middle east, especially ancient Egypt and Persia. Interestingly, they even found their way into the old testament with stories dating back to around 1,500 B.C (3,4).

Although almonds are closely related to apples and peaches, they are thought to have taken a different evolutionary journey as a result of terrestrial changes in East Asia, millions of years ago (5).

Along with peach and apple trees, almond trees were originally used to make poison as they produce a form of cyanide.

As such, almonds were originally avoided as a food, however, they secured their role as a source of nutrition when farmers across the Eastern mediterranean discovered how to select and cultivate edible strains.

Nowadays, California is the largest home to almond production and is responsible for about 80% of all almonds grown world-wide (4).

Almonds Nutrition

Per serving, almonds have a balanced nutritional profile, containing proteins, carbohydrates, and dietary fats.  

They are also an excellent source of calcium, biotin (3), vitamin E, manganese, vitamin B2, phosphorus and magnesium.

Here’s a detailed nutrient breakdown per serving (1/4 cup nuts, around 35g) (7,8,9).

  • almonds nutritionCalories: 206
  • Dietary Fat: 18 grams (Saturated fat: 1,25 grams)
  • Total Carbs: 7.75 grams (Fibre: 4.25 grams, 17% of RDV)
  • Protein: 7.5 grams
  • Biotin: 49% of RDV
  • Vitamin E: 47% of RDV
  • Manganese: 41% of RDV
  • Magnesium: 24% of RDV
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 21% of RDV
  • Phosphorus: 17% of RDV
  • Calcium: 9.5% of RDV

Top Health Benefits of Almonds

Almonds are well-known to be a great health boosting food and can be used to help manage a number of conditions.

Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Several studies have shown that regular almond consumption can have a positive impact on significantly reducing heart disease risk factors, for example, by increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing LDL cholesterol (10,11,12)

*LDL = bad cholesterol; HDL = good cholesterol

In addition, one study has suggested that women with the highest intakes of vitamin E in their diet, a nutrient almonds are rich in, have a lower risk of coronary heart disease (13).

Blood Sugar And Diabetes

When looking at the almond’s nutritional profile, we see three major components that lead to blood glucose control: protein, healthy fat, and fibre.  Eating these three nutrients in combination is the best way to blunt blood sugar increases, keeping energy levels stable. This makes them an ideal choice for those who are suffering from or looking to prevent diabetes (14,15).

Additionally, magnesium, one of the minerals almonds are rich in, can help to improve blood glucose control in non-insulin-dependent diabetics (16).  Even those who are not diabetic can stand to benefit.  By adding magnesium to their daily protocol, individuals suffering from insulin resistance can also show signs of improvement, therefore reducing their risk factor for developing diabetes later in life (17).

Weight Control

almonds in their shellsThanks to the combination of healthy fats, protein, and fibre, almonds are great for regulating blood sugar and, therefore, for decreasing hunger.  

As such, a small snack of almonds in between meals may help you reduce your overall daily calorie intake meaning they can help with weight loss and management.  

In addition to that, almonds are quite difficult for the body to break down and fully use and, as such, 10-15% of their total caloric value is not absorbed (18). This means you will actually net fewer calories overall when eating almonds.

Those who replace some of the carbohydrates in their diet with almonds instead note greater total reductions in weight, waist circumference, as well as total body fat mass (19).

That said, do keep in mind that almonds are very calorie dense so you will need to keep a handle on serving size, otherwise, you may be pushing your calorie intake too far.

Cancer Reduction

Another life threatening condition, cancer, can also be lessened with a regular intake of almonds.  Vitamin E acts as a key antioxidant in the body and those with high intakes on a regular basis may show some protective benefits against the risk for colon cancer, especially in those under the age of 65. (20).

Likewise, adding plenty of vitamin E to the diet, either through food or supplemental form may also help to lower the risk of prostate cancer in males who smoke (21).

Cognitive Decline

As we age, it’s common to see declines in cognition including memory deterioration and reduced mental processing speed.  

Almonds may help offset this as those with vitamin E rich diets tend to show less cognitive decline with age compared to those who don’t (22).

This is again thanks to the fact that vitamin E has antioxidant properties and can protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

Blood Pressure Management

High blood pressure is commonplace in today’s modern world where diets commonly comprise high percentages of processed and/or fast food.  Eating a diet rich in magnesium however can help you get your own levels under control (23).

As almonds provide a rich source of this mineral, and most Western diets are currently lacking in magnesium (24), they are the perfect addition to your daily menu.

How To Select

Almonds are highly versatile and can be used in many different ways. Used whole or slivered, they can be added to salads, stirred into breakfast cereals, used to create a topping for a dessert, or eaten raw or as part of a trail mix.If you want to maximise the shelf life of your almonds, keep them in their shells and look to purchase those that don’t contain split shells or have any sort of stained outer appearance.

If you are going to purchase shelled almonds, purchase those that are stored in a hermetically sealed container as they will stay fresh longer thanks to not being as exposed to air and heat.  Purchasing almonds from bulk bins in a grocer’s store should be avoided unless you are sure there is a high turnover taking place.  

Always be sure to read the label of any almond containers you are purchasing if they are roasted to ensure there are not added unwanted ingredients. Very often sugar, salt, or other additives will be used during the roasting process.

You can also choose to simply roast them on your own at home to bring out their flavour by baking them in an oven preheated to 160-170 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.

After bringing your almonds home, store them in an air-tight container in a cool, dark space that’s low in humidity.  You may also choose to keep them in the fridge for extended freshness where they can be kept for several months, or in the freezer, for up to one year.

How To Use

Almonds are highly versatile and can be used in many different ways.  Used whole or slivered, they can be added to salads, stirred into breakfast cereals, used to create a topping for a dessert, or eaten raw or as part of a trail mix.

They can also be ground up into a flour, used in baked goods to help reduce the amount of traditional wheat flour that must be used.

Finally, they can also be turned into almond butter, used as a spread just as you would peanut butter.  If purchasing almond butter, do try and purchase natural varieties to minimise the addition of added ingredients.

However you choose to use your almonds, do try and keep the skin on the almonds as this can increase their antioxidant power, thus altering the health boosting benefits you receive.

When used regularly as part of a balanced nutrition plan, almonds offer a wealth of health benefits and should not be overlooked. Don’t let their higher calorie density put you off – all it takes is a handful or two of almonds per day to reap their amazing benefits.

Sources For This article

  1. Wikipedia – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almond
  2. Quatr.us – /food/almonds.htm
  3. WHFoods
  4. nationalalmondday.com /history of almonds
  5. BlueDiamond (bluediamond.com)
  6. WHFoods – Biotin
  7. Calorie King
  8. Google Nutrition Facts
  9. Nutrition Data
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12221048
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26269239
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25559009
  13. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM199305203282003
  14. http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(06)00389-1/abstract
  15. Diabetes In Control – diabetesincontrol.com /almonds-can-improve-diabetes-control/
  16. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00404136
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21205110
  18. http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/19/1/137.pdf
  19. http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v27/n11/abs/0802411a.html
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8364919
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26887708
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12117360
  23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19020533
  24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15930481

If you enjoyed learning about the health benefits of almonds, head over to our superfood series section where we have a growing range of articles covering quinoa, cinnamon, broccoli, garlic, flax seed and avocado.

image credits: www.seedguides.info | www.heartmdinstitute.com | quaoccho.biz

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