When plainly referred to as almonds, it commonly means sweet almonds (scientific name Prunusdulcis) even though another variety- the bitter almonds also exists. Only sweet almonds can be eaten. Sweet almonds are oval in shape and are malleable. Bitter almonds contain toxic substances but they can be removed while manufacturing almond oil and this oil can be used as a flavoring agent.
Almonds are supposed to have originated in West Asia and North Africa. It is now commercially grown in several Mediterranean countries and also in California in United States. Even though we consider almond to be a nut, it is in fact the seed of the fruit borne by the almond tree.
Why are almonds beneficial ?
Almonds are not just plain food for many cultures, but they have historical and social significance. As a food, they contain abundant vitamin E and manganese. Folic acid, Vitamin B2, copper, magnesium and phosphorus are also available in plenty in almonds contributing to the many health benefits of almonds. Most of the fat contained in almonds is monounsaturated and hence is heart-healthy. They also contain lot of dietary fiber and high quality protein in the form of essential amino acids.
Even though the freshest almonds become available only in mid-summer, almonds are available in packaged form all year round, anywhere; the health benefits of almonds are the same in the packaged form as that of the fresh ones.
Did you know!
Almonds are great source of both minerals and vitamins. 1 cup of almonds can provide you with (as % of daily requirements by body):
- 125% Vitamin E
- 109% manganese
- 64% magnesium
- 57% Riboflavin
- 47% copper
- 46% phosphorous
- 25% calcium
Health benefits of almonds
Often perceived as a fatty food, almonds in fact are not just non-fattening, but they also reduce the cholesterol in the body . Extensive research has established the connection between almonds and a decrease in the risk of heart disease . A storehouse of nutrients, health benefits of almonds are many.
Benefits to heart : Almonds reduce the risk of heart disease by contributing to decrease the cholesterol level and in many other ways. Almonds being rich in monounsaturated fat lower the level of LDL cholesterol which in elevated levels is responsible for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Another reason for this reduced risk of heart disease is the presence of vitamin E which has an antioxidant action. Almonds have the capacity to reduce C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation that can cause damage to arteries. Folic acid in almonds lowers homocystein levels and hence prevents plaque buildup in arteries.
Also, almonds contain a lot of magnesium which is a known calcium channel blocker, which means that it removes resistance in veins and arteries and improves the blood flow through them. Magnesium is also important in preventing heart attack as well as in preventing post-attack free radical injury. It also contains a lot of potassium which is important for nerve transmission and muscle contraction in heart. And the sodium contained is very low, which implies protection against high blood pressure.
Anti-cancer benefits : Almonds are a powerhouse of phytochemicals- compounds which provide protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Almonds have been found to contain the maximum diversity of phytochemicals. They are also the best whole food source that provides alpha-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E, which has the ability to prevent cancer . They are also found to prevent colon cancer by increasing food movement in colon .
Benefits to brain : Almonds contain plenty of folate which is crucial in preventing fetal neural tube defects and brain defects. Almonds are also generally considered good for the brain. Studies show links between reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and almond consumption.
Benefits to skin : Almonds are widely considered to be beneficial to skin and hence are used in massage as oil or in topical application as paste. They are believed to give a smooth and supple skin and an improved complexion.
Protects from diabetes : Almonds have the ability to lessen sugar level surges in the blood post meals. This could be because of their ability to lessen the increase in free radicals which cause blood sugar elevation.
Help in losing weight : An almond-enriched low calorie diet has been found to be more effective than low calorie high carbohydrate diet in reducing weight/body mass index, waist circumference and body fat. It has also been shown that people who consume nuts frequently are much less likely to gain weight and much more likely to eat a healthier diet . They contain mono-unsaturated fats that can help satiate hunger more easily and hence prevent the urge to overeat .
Energy production : Riboflavin, copper and manganese present in almonds helps the body produce more energy . These minerals are key cofactors of oxidative enzyme – superoxide dismutase. All these help in oxygen based energy production – which is constantly needed in essential parts of our body especially heart and muscles.
Other health benefits of almonds are:
- Almonds contain a lot of calcium which helps in preventing osteoporosis.
- Phosphorus in almonds helps build stronger bones and teeth.
- Almonds have been shown to prevent formation of gallstones.
- Almonds being rich in fiber helps prevent constipation .
Usage, selection and storage
Shelled almonds can be broken using a food processer or chopped by hand. They can be blanched to remove skin and eaten. They can be mixed with several foods or used as a garnish on salads and desserts.
Delicious Almond Milk recipe!
Almonds that are not shelled have a longer shelf life. Avoid the ones that are moldy, split or stained when purchasing these. Shelled almonds can stay for a long time in sealed containers kept away from direct sunlight. Here look for the uniformity of color and the sweet and nutty smell. They should not be limp or shriveled either.
When not to consume almonds
Almonds contain oxalates which in excess cause crystallization in body fluids. Hence people who suffer from kidney or gallbladder problems may avoid almond consumption. It is also classified as a major allergen and hence must be handled with care. Also, the commercial roasting process results in addition of saturated fats which increases LDL and cause thickening of artery walls .
Almond is a protein powerhouse which can be consumed as a crunchy and healthy snack. They can be added to a variety of dishes in a multitude of ways to improve taste and also can be savored as such. Easy accessibility and high availability combined with the health benefits of almonds make it an ideal health food that you can include in your diet regularly.