Almonds, native to the Mediterranean region of the Middle East, are considered to be one of the earliest domesticated tree nuts, and one of the most prized snacks in the world. If the spread of the almond throughout the world is not proof enough of this, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the world produced 2 million tons of almonds in 2011 alone! Packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals, it is easy to see why the almond is present on almost every continent and the health benefits of this little nut have long been touted by experts.
The almond contains about 26% carbohydrates, 12% of which are dietary fiber. About 20 percent of a raw almond is made up of high quality protein, containing essential amino acids. An ounce of almonds, which equates to about 25 almonds, contains 12% of our necessary daily protein! They are a rich source of vitamin E, B vitamins, essential minerals – like calcium, magnesium and potassium – and monounsaturated fat – one of the fats linked to lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. Typical of nuts and seeds, almonds also contain phytosterols, associated with lowering cholesterol. But how exactly are these vitamins helping?
Let’s take a closer look:
Vitamin E – almonds are one of the best sources of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E —the form that’s best absorbed by your body. This is important to your muscles because it can help prevent free radical damage after work outs or muscle strain and damage. The less free radical damage, the faster your muscles can recover. The antioxidant benefit of vitamin E also helps defend against sun damage, and has also been associated with good heart health. Furthermore, almonds can be considered “brain food”. Healthy levels of vitamin E have been shown to prevent cognitive decline, boost alertness and preserve memory longer.
B Vitamins – Almonds contain about 17% of your daily intake of B2, which helps convert food to energy for the body. Because they are essential for energy production, the have a positive effect on athletic training, performance and strength. The B vitamins also contribute to healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver.
Monounsaturated Fat – dubbed the “healthy fat” because it helps decrease high LDL cholesterol levels. By decreasing cholesterol, those who eat almonds can decrease their risk of heart disease and heart attack. This makes the almond a heart healthy snack!
Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium: Essential minerals in promoting strong, healthy bones. Almonds provide a number of minerals that are essential in promoting strong, healthy bones and preventing bone disease like osteoporosis, including protein,.
A lot of the vitamins and minerals found in almonds work together, this is when we see the real healthful benefits that have given almonds their great reputation. One such combination is Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium – together, these are essential to the production of testosterone. This is especially beneficial to men over the age of 30, who may experience a decline in levels of testosterone. The alternate combination vitamin E, vitamin B and magnesium in almonds can bolster your immune system when you are sick or stressed, keeping you hale and hearty.
Is there anything the almond can’t do? Despite almonds being nutritional powerhouses, they ARE relatively high in calories. For this reason, people trying to cut back on calories and lose weight often shy away from this snack. Research, however, has shown otherwise.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewing 31 studies about eating nuts, it was found that adults who incorporated nuts into their diets, and replaced other foods with them, lost more weight and reduced their waist sizes. One reason for these results are that nuts are satisfying, that is they are a “high satiety food” full of fiber. This means they are broken down slowly by the body and help you to feel full longer. Snacking on nuts can help you avoid eating less healthy foods, thereby helping you manage your weight. Furthermore, a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that eating nuts or almonds at least twice per week decreased the likelihood of weight gain.
While almonds are often enjoyed whole – raw or toasted – they can also make a great addition to some of your favorite foods. Whether whole, sliced, flaked, or slivered – they can be sprinkled over yogurt, breakfast, salad and desserts. They can be pounded into flour, blended into almond butter or mixed with water into almond milk. The many uses of almonds make them a great alternative for those with diet restrictions, food allergies, or follow a vegan lifestyle. Remember, if you are adding almonds to your diet, cut back on something else. Substitute almonds for chips or cookies, and avoid those that are loaded with salt, oil and other additives.
If you believe you have a nut allergy, or have had an allergic reaction in the past please contact your doctor before attempting to add almonds to your diet.