While called “a nut,” the almond is actually a seed – much like the pit of a cherry, peach or apricot. Domesticated almond trees have been around since at least the Early Bronze Age (3,000 – 2,000 BC). Today, most of the almonds we eat come from California, the world’s largest exporter. Many almonds are also cultivated in Australia, Spain, Greece and Turkey.
Types of Almonds
Almonds vary from sweet to bitter. Most of the almonds we eat here are California almonds, which are buttery and subtle. You can have them pretty much any way – raw, coated in salt or coconut sugar, sautéed in a stir fry, or baked into a pastry.
Another type of almond that has been a favorite among chefs is the Spanish Marcona Almond, a round, plump almond with a wetter texture (much like Macadamia Nuts) and a taste as sweet and delicate as almond extract. They’re ideal for cheese plates, salads, desserts and baked goods alike. (6)
A quarter cup of raw almonds contain:
- 132 calories
- 49% DV Biotin
- 40% DV Vitamin E
- 27% DV Manganese
- 26% DV Copper
- 18% DV Vitamin B2
- 16% DV Phosphorus
- 15% DV Magnesium
- 15% DV Molybdenum
- 11% DV Fiber
Top 5 Health Benefits of Almonds
- Almonds lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Five large studies – the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Health Study, the Adventist Health Study and the Physicians Health Study – all found that nut consumption may help to lowers one’s risk for heart disease. The Nurses Health Study found a 30% reduction in heart disease risk (when substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate), a 45% reduced risk was noted if nut fats were substituted for saturated fats such as meat and dairy fats. It is thought that the high antioxidant Vitamin E content may be responsible for the 8-12% reduction in LDL cholesterol. Furthermore, the almond’s magnesium may help to lessen resistance in the arteries and to prevent free radical injury to the heart, while the Potassium supports proper heart muscle contractions and nerve transmissions. (1)
- Almonds provide “healthy fat” that aids in weight loss. A study of more than 8,000 people published in the journal Obesity showed that people who ate nuts like almonds twice a week were 31% less likely to gain weight than people who rarely or never ate nuts. (8)
- Almonds improve energy. The Manganese and Copper (cofactors of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase) in almonds disarm free radicals produced within the mitochondria of our cells to keep energy flowing freely. B2 also plays a role in the body’s energy production capabilities. (1)
- Almonds help prevent gallstones. The Nurses Health Study of over 80,000 women found that those who ate 1 ounce of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. (1)
- Almonds prevent blood sugar spikes and lower the risk of diabetes. Almonds decrease post-meal rises in blood sugar and insulin. In a study published in the journal Metabolism in 2007, Jones & Kendall reported that one ounce of almonds eaten with white bread had a Glycemic Index rating of 105.8, but when two ounces of almonds were eaten with the white bread, the GI dropped to 63. When three ounces of almonds were eaten with white bread, the GI was only 45.2 – less than half of the white bread only meal. Subjects’ blood sugar rose 2.8 mmol/L with white bread alone, 2.2 mmol/L when an ounce of almonds was added, and 2.0 mmol/L with two ounces of almonds, and 1.6 mmol/L when three ounces of almonds were eaten. (1)
Buying, Storing, Cooking & Eating Almonds
- Buying Almonds: Look for almonds that are uniform in color, shape and size – not shriveled, discolored or bitter-smelling. Be sure to read product labels to see that the nuts were not adulterated with sugar, corn syrup, or preservatives. Choose almonds in their skins for more Vitamin E and double the antioxidant power.
- Storing Almonds: Shelled almonds have the longest shelf life. Refrigerated almonds will keep for several months — and frozen, for a year.
- Cooking Almonds: You can roast your own almonds in the oven at 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes.
- Eating Almonds: Add chopped almonds and dried fruit to homemade coconut yogurt. Sautee sliced almonds with curried or Asian style veggies in a stir fry. Add almond butter to a breakfast shake or grain free muffin or cookie. Eat a handful of almonds with apple slices for a power snack. Put sliced almonds in your chicken salad. Bake into grain free cookies or cakes.
Photo Credit Almonds Above: © Mivr – Fotolia.com
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For gluten free, raw almonds, click here.