A Brief History Of Almonds– The Benefits Of Adding Almonds In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Almonds– Almonds Effects – Are There Any?
Food is crucial in human health. The healthier you eat, the healthier you will be, too. Otherwise, if you feel yourself with junk and processed food, then your body and overall health will suffer.
What kind of food, you might ask.
The truth is there are lots. By lots, this means you need to include almonds on the list.
Why almonds? What’s in an almond that makes it special and be considered as a superfood? Isn’t it too much nuts not good for the body as well?
Keep reading to find out.
Almonds, In A Nutshell
Almond is a popular nut that can be eaten raw or by roasting. It is easy to add this in your favorite dishes, thereby giving the nutty flavor and crunchy texture. Many baked recipes also incorporate almonds because of its health benefits.
Almonds are edible seeds that came from Prunus dulcis, or popularly known as almond tree. Typically, the almond fruit, known as drupe, have hard, green shell that cracks before harvest. Once harvested, these will be dried and the shells and hulls are removed. This is where you will see the almond that you know.
In terms of taste, almonds have light and butter flavor. It also has a distinct crunch that will bring more texture to the food. On the other hand, whole, raw almonds has a toasty flavor because the skin is still intact.
How was the name derived, you might ask.
The word “almond” came from the Latin word amandula, which was derived from the Greek term amygdala or that part of the brain that has the same shape as the nut of the almond tree. Interestingly, almond is also a Hebrew word for “tonsil.”
Because of the demand, almonds are readily available in the supermarket, health food stores, or even local grocers.
Aside from its nut variant, you can also find different products such as flour, butter, extract, oil, milk, and paste. Out of all these products, almond milk and almond butter have the highest consumer demand.
Different countries around the world use almond distinctly. For instance, Japanese incorporate chocolate in their almonds. Chinese roast and salt almonds during autumn and winter for their snack, especially during Chinese New year. In India, almonds are considered as brain food and a main ingredient in mithai, a traditional sweet. French people like to sprinkle almonds in their patisserie treats like macarons and galette des rois. Germans use almonds in their marzipan confections while those from Sweden hide almond in rice pudding and whoever finds it will have a good fortune.
In other words, almonds can be used in variety of ways, regardless of where you are in the world.
Almond is a tree that is native to the Mediterranean region. It was among the wild trees that were later on cultivated as early as 3000 BC. In fact, signs of domesticated almonds appeared in archaeological sites in Numeira (modern day Jordan) as well as in Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.
Sometime in 1400 BC, almonds are already widely mentioned from Greek mythology to the Holy Bible. In fact, it was mentioned as a prized food and given as gifts in the book of Genesis. The Book of Numbers also mentioned how Aaron’s rod blossomed and bore almonds.
By 100 AD, almonds were considered as fertility charm in Rome. Newlyweds were then showered with almonds, whose tradition is still being carried out in North America.
Between 600 and 900 AD, almond trees flourished in the Mediterranean region, particularly in Greece, Morocco, Spain, and Israel. Explorers traveling through Silk Road eventually brought almonds to China. Franciscan priests also brought almonds in California but because of the cool, moist weather, almond trees did not flourish.
As the time progresses, almond also became popular and widely cultivated. You can see it in Van Gogh’s paintings and finally, almond industry in California flourished.
Fast forward today, the state of California is the biggest producers of almond in the world. In fact, the state is responsible for 80 percent of the world’s supply and is considered the top agricultural export of almonds in the world.
Almonds Nutrition Facts
Almonds are among the healthiest foods around. Although it is calorie-dense, it is also nutrient-dense, with most of it giving the body monounsaturated fat.
In fact, one ounce or 28 grams of almonds could give you the following nutrients:
- 165 calories
- 6 grams of protein
- 14 grams of fat (80 percent monounsaturated fat, 15 percent polyunsaturated fat, and 5 percent saturated fat)
- 6 grams of carbohydrates
- 3 grams of fiber
Aside from these nutrients, almonds could also give you:
- Vitamin E
- Phytonutrients specifically flavonoids, phenolic acids, and plant sterols
- Phytic acid, a type of substance that binds certain kinds of minerals to prevent absorption
Compared to other nuts like macadamia, walnut, cashew, and pistachio, almonds lead the race when it comes to protein and fiber. They are also naturally low in sugar and lower in calories compared to the others.
Given its nutritional profile, it’s not surprising to see that almonds come with many health benefits. Let’s take a closer look.
Loaded With Antioxidants
How important are oxidants in the body? The answer is very.
Antioxidants help against oxidative stress that could damage the molecules in the cells. This could contribute to inflammation and increases the risk of developing conditions like early signs of aging and cancer.
Don’t munch on almonds just yet. If you want to enjoy almonds’ antioxidant properties, then make sure you go for those with the brown layer still on. According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science, polyphenols and antioxidant properties are found on almond skin. In fact, roasting is the recommended type when processing almonds because it keeps the skin intact without compromising antioxidant capacity.
To prove this, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked into the effect of almond consumption on male smokers. In the said study, oxidative stress biomarkers were reduced by as much as 34 percent after eating three ounces of almonds every day for four weeks.
Another study posted in the same journal proved that almonds’ antioxidant properties decreased glycemic excursion and other markers of oxidative damage to lipids and proteins.
This only shows how effective almonds are in protecting the body.
Helps Control Blood Sugar
Diabetes can be a frustrating condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, 10.5 percent or 34.2 million of the American population have diabetes. Worse, there are millions more who are not yet diagnosed.
Diabetes is a serious condition because it could lead to further health complications. Thankfully, there are natural foods that help control blood sugar and reduce your risk. One of them is almonds.
Almonds are rich in magnesium, a type of mineral that helps with blood sugar control among others. Two ounces of almonds could already give 150 milligrams, which is almost half of the recommended daily intake of 310 to 420 milligrams.
Are there studies that back up this claim against blood sugar levels and diabetes?
Interestingly, people with diabetes are also magnesium-deficient. By snacking on almonds, you will be able to correct this deficiency, which leads to lower blood sugar levels and improved insulin function.
Aside from this, a study published in Diabetes and Metabolism showed that people with diabetes experienced a reduction in insulin resistance after taking magnesium supplements.
This shows that foods that are rich in magnesium, almonds included, could reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Rich In Vitamin E
One of the nutritional components of almond is vitamin E. This vitamin is a family of fat-soluble antioxidants that also protects cells against oxidative damage.
Although there are other sources of vitamin E, almonds are among, if not the best source. In fact, one ounce of almonds can already give 37 percent of the recommended daily intake.
When you have a sufficient supply of vitamin E, this also means a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and cancer among others.
Lowers Blood Pressure Levels
There are many contributing factors for a heart attack – and high blood pressure is among them.
Here’s a secret: eating almonds could help lower your blood pressure, thanks to its high magnesium content.
According to a study published in the World Journal of Cardiology, magnesium, and other nutrients such as potassium and calcium are important not just in reducing blood pressure but also in controlling it. This could lead to lower cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension reported the same and acknowledged the effect of magnesium, potassium, and calcium in treating hypertension.
Thankfully, almonds are rich in magnesium, thereby creating a huge impact on your blood pressure.
Helps Reduce Cholesterol Levels
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL or the unhealthy kind and HDL or the good kind. When there is too much LDL or bad cholesterol in the body, it could build up in the arteries and form plaques. This could lead to stomach pains, chest pain, numbness, stroke, and heart attack among others.
There is an easy and convenient way to help you reduce cholesterol levels: eat almonds.
In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, experts looked into the effects of almond in relation to LDL cholesterol levels on adults with prediabetes. After 16 weeks of almond consumption, experts found out that 20 percent of calories from almonds helped lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Another recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association also revealed the same finding. In the said study, almonds helped reduce LDL cholesterol levels while maintaining a good supply of good cholesterol in the body. In fact, experts recommended daily consumption of almonds as a substitute for high-carbohydrate snacks.
Apparently, it doesn’t end with lowering cholesterol levels.
When you consume almonds, it also help protect LDL from oxidation. This is important because oxidation could lead to the development of heart disease.
You might ask how it helps. The truth is it’s all because of the almond skin.
Almond skin is rich in polyphenol antioxidants. When combined with other antioxidants like vitamin E, which almonds also have in a generous amount, the mechanism against oxidation is stronger.
To prove this claim, a study published in Circulation journal showed the effects of almond in reducing risk factors for coronary heart disease. In the said study, experts noted that snacking on almonds for at least a month lowered oxidized LDL cholesterol by 14 percent. This is because of almond’s protein, fiber, and monounsaturated fatty acid components.
Lowers Overall Intake Of Calories
Calorie is a unit of measurement. It measures the amount of energy that you can get from the food or beverage you take. This means to ensure steady supply of energy, you need to have sufficient amount of calories from your food consumption.
Don’t use this as an excuse to eat up. You still need to be mindful of your calorie intake to avoid gaining weight. Consequently, you need to be wiser in choosing what food to eat.
This is where almond comes in. Almonds are low in carbs but are rich in fiber and protein. Both fiber and protein help create a feeling of fullness.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a daily intake of 1.5 ounces of almonds significantly reduced both hunger and desire to eat among the participants. This means there is a lower risk of gaining weight, too; hence making almonds a recommended snacking option.
Another study also showed that tree nuts like almonds have a strong inverse association with obesity. This means if you want to curb hunger, then eating almonds and other tree nuts could help, which leads you to the next health benefit.
An Effective Aid For Weight Loss
You know that one of the benefits of almonds is it helps curb appetite and lowers your overall calorie intake. Because of its satiating properties, you now have a partner in achieving your weight goals.
Based on a study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, a low-calorie diet supplemented with 84 grams of almonds every day helped reduce weight. In fact, the difference in weight loss compared to a diet rich in complex carbohydrates is significant.
Another study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Science has the same finding. In the said study, overweight participants who snacked on almonds lost more weight and recorded significant improvements in waist circumference as well as other health markers.
Take it easy, though. Despite being a weight loss-friendly food, almonds are also high in fat, which means eating too much could be detrimental on your weight loss goals.
Almonds Side Effects
There are many good things and health benefits we can say about almonds. What about side effects?
Allergic reaction to nuts are the most common side effects. If you are allergic to tree nuts, then you are most likely allergic to almonds. This could result to rashes, itching, inflammation, or shortness of breath among others.
Also, take it easy on your almond intake. Despite the many health benefits, too much almonds is not recommended. It could cause the following if you’re not too careful of your portion:
- Weight gain because of its fat and calorie content. Although it is mostly monounsaturated fat, too much snacking on almonds with no physical activity could still lead to fat deposition in the body.
- Digestive problem such as constipation, upset stomach, and bloating. This is because almonds are rich in fiber and too much fiber could lead to tummy concerns.
- Vitamin E overdose, which could result to blurred vision, weakness, and diarrhea.
- Increased risk of developing kidney stones due to high level of calcium oxalates in the body that were not secreted. Those who have continence issues, history of kidney stones, or prone to kidney problems must limit the consumption of almonds.
- Interaction with medication. Since almonds are rich in manganese, it could interfere with medications such as laxatives, antibiotics, and blood pressure medications.
- Toxicity, although this is limited to bitter or lethal almonds. This type of almond is effective in treating pain and spasm, but too much can be toxic. It contains hydrocyanic acid, which when taken in excess amount, it could lead to choking, breathing problems, nervous breakdown, or even death.
Just like any other food, the key is eat in moderation. It is best to consume one-third cup or up to 40 grams of almonds everyday to reduce the possibility of experiencing these side effects.
The shelf life of almonds depends on how they were produced, processed, and packaged. According to the Almond Board of California, there are three main factors that affect almond’s shelf life:
- Product characteristics
- Environment during distribution and storage
Ideally and if stored properly, almonds will last up to two years. It is recommended that you place in an airtight container and store it inside the refrigerator or freezer. This way, you can preserve its freshness because it is away from heat, light, and oxygen.
Contrary to popular belief, almonds are not recommended to be stored in room temperature. They contain high amounts of unsaturated fat, which is a delicate kind of oil. If stored in the pantry, then there is a higher chance that it would go rancid.
The same goes for almond paste and roasted almonds. Airtight container and stored in the refrigerator could help not only preserve the freshness and quality of the product but also prolong its shelf life.
For almond flour, you can store it in the pantry, but this will only last for a few months. It is best to either keep it refrigerated to make it last up to six months or store it in the freezer for longer shelf life beyond six months.
If you like almond milk, then make sure to consume it immediately, preferably within seven to 10 days upon opening.
Almonds are among the healthiest foods around. It is often used to add not just texture and crunch to the dishes but also for more flavor.
In case you ran out of almonds, below are your substitutes:
- Unsalted pistachio
- Brazil nuts
If you need nut alternatives because of allergy, then the following can also be an option to give the dish some texture or crunch:
- Crisp rice cereal
- Unsalted pumpkin
- Granola sans nuts
- Sunflower seeds
If you prefer the nutty flavors without the crunch or texture, then these can be your alternative:
- Dried cranberries
- Chocolate chips
For baking substitutes, here are your alternatives:
- Amaretto liqueur, although you need four to eight times of the amount required for almond flavor.
- Vanilla extract, which you must use twice the required measurement for almond extract.
Almond Uses / Recipes
Almonds can be eaten raw and as is. You can also roast it and then sprinkle some salt for healthier snacks.
To make your life easier, there are products in the market that sells readily-available almond snacks in different kinds of flavor, although the nutritional component might be compromised because of the added ingredients.
You can also make or do the following:
- Homemade trail mix with whole grain cereals, dried fruits, and dark chocolate
- Use almond flour instead of white flour in your baked goods
- Add almonds in the blender every time you make smoothies
- Sprinkle almonds in your salad for added crunch
- Mix sliced almonds as a crunchy topper together with your veggies
- Add a spoonful of almond butter to your oatmeal for a generous supply of healthy fat and protein
- Combine almonds when you bake brownies or cookies
From these recipe ideas, you can see that the use of almonds is limitless. Don’t be afraid to add this in your diet because its nutritional profile is excellent.
The Bottom Line
Almonds have been around for centuries as proven by the different ways various countries use this tree nut as part of their tradition. It comes with tons of health benefits – from steady supply of antioxidants, to controlling blood sugar and blood pressure levels, to an ideal snack to help against weight loss.
Despite its many healthy profile, take note of the side effects, too. Too much almonds could lead to weight gain, vitamin E overdose, and digestive problems among others.
Watch your portion and almonds will return the favor of keeping you fit and healthy.