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Virtually everyone has enjoyed almonds at one point or another, but not everyone is aware of all of the wonderful benefits that they offer! They are nutrient dense, taste great, versatile, and grow in some of the most beautiful orchards you’ve ever seen. From top to bottom there are a lot of health benefits of almonds to cover, so let’s get started!
What Are Almonds?
Almonds are the seeds of trees that are also called almond. They are stone fruits, or drupes, meaning that they have one large hard seed in the center, and a soft layer surrounding it, like peaches or mango. The difference in this case is that it’s the seeds that are edible rather than the fleshy fruit. Almonds are popular simply for their great taste, but these nuts are also really beneficial nutritionally.
How Do Almonds Grow?
Almond trees are native to the Middle East, and therefore logically flourish in climates with hot, dry summers and little to no frost. These trees don’t need too much water to survive. Southern California and other dry areas in the U.S. are now the biggest growers of the nut, surpassing its Middle Eastern home in production and export. In fact, when California experienced a particularly rough drought in 2015, almond supply and pricing were directly affected. These trees are compact and beautiful, so they’re a perfect addition for a home garden if you live in a warmer climate.
The almonds are usually harvested in late August, after almost all of the hulls have split. In commercial orchards, branches are shaken until the nuts fall, often onto large tarps for easy gathering.
Are Almonds Healthy?
The health benefits of almonds are perhaps the single most impressive of all tree nuts – that is no light boast. They are the second-to-most Vitamin E-rich food, offering 35% of the Recommended Daily Value in just 1 ounce (a small handful’s worth). Vitamin E is clinically proven to have powerful, multi-faceted effects on the body. It has anti-oxidant properties, supports the immune system, the liver, is an anti-inflammatory, prevents heart disease, balances cholesterol levels, balances hormone levels, promotes blood circulation which increases energy levels and muscular strength, contributes to skin health preventing outbreaks of acne, eczema, signs of aging, and protects against sun damage reducing the risk of skin-cancer. Not too shabby, eh?
Almonds have a low glycemic index, so they help stabilize blood sugar levels – preventing sugar highs and sugar crashing. They can control appetite and help you feel full, longer, and have been shown to help with weight loss despite their high calorie content. This could also be due to their amazing dietary fiber content, 3.5 grams worth in 1 ounce, which is double the amount of most other tree nuts. Speaking of weight loss and calories, these nuts have one of the lowest calorie content of all tree nuts, and the lowest amount of saturated fat of all tree nuts. They are a very good source of monounsaturated fats, which are crucial for the maintenance of heart health, proper neural functioning, mental health, and many other bodily functions.
They are high in iron, magnesium, and potassium, and contain more riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and calcium than any other tree nut. Almonds boast an incredible 6 grams of protein per serving which is, again, more than any other tree nut has to offer.
Related: Check out some of our other foods features covering Brazil Nuts, Chia Seeds, Pistachio Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Avocado Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, and more!
How to Eat Almonds
If you really want to maximize the benefits of almonds, it’s important to soak them prior to eating. The brown outer coating contains enzyme inhibitors as part of the plant’s self-protection mechanism, which prevents the absorption of certain minerals and makes the nuts more difficult to digest. Almonds also absorb quite a lot of water, so if you don’t soak them they can be quite dehydrating, while soaked almonds are already full of water and actually have the opposite effect. Soaking almonds requires almost no effort, especially considering how much the small step can accomplish. Leave them in a glass or steel bowl, covered in filtered water, for at least 5 hours or overnight.
An easy, delicious way to implement almonds into your diet is by drinking almond milk, which is often said to be the closest healthy substitute to cow’s milk. Soy is a close taste substitute but isn’t actually very good for you in high quantities. This is obviously perfect for a vegan or lactose-intolerant diet, but even if you don’t have any allergies or moral objections to milk, studies have shown that it is very difficult for the human body to digest cow’s milk – especially when pasteurized.
It’s a good idea to somewhat limit the amount of milk in your diet. Because of almond milk’s high protein, calcium and fatty acid content, it is also a good nutrient substitute for milk. Look out for sweetened almond milk, as many brands utilize sugar or artificial sweeteners. By making it at home, you can choose your own natural sweetener and know exactly what’s going into your milk. A basic recipe is 1 part almonds (soaked overnight and rinsed—this is important for creaminess as well as health) and 2 parts water, blended in a food processor or blender. I like to add some organic maple syrup and a dash of sea salt to taste. Homemade almond milk only lasts a few days in the fridge, so you can’t make too much at a time.
Almonds are also nice roasted, tossed with a bit of olive oil and spices or even sprinkled with some Parmesan. They can be added to so many recipes for a bit of crunch, and my favorite is a Strawberry Spinach Salad with a honey balsamic vinaigrette and slivered almonds on top. I know that sounds a bit ‘interesting,’ but it is seriously delicious and always a big hit.
— Christy Brissette RD (@80twentyrule) January 6, 2017
Side Effects of Almonds
The nutrient density of almonds has its downside. “Too much of a good thing” and all that jazz. It’s possible to “overdose” on Vitamin E, which can result in headaches, dizziness, tiredness and vomiting. Try to keep track of Vitamin E intake throughout the day for a few days to get a general idea of how much you are consuming, and try not to let that amount exceed 1,000 mg a day.
The fiber in almonds can also be harmful if consumed in excess, disrupting rather than aiding the digestive system and leaving you with abdominal discomfort, bloating and abnormal bowel function (constipation or diarrhea if you want to get graphic). Too much manganese (more than 2.5 mg a day) can interact with certain medications, including antibiotics and blood pressure regulation medication, so you’ll want to keep track of that if you’re taking either of those.
Almond allergies are actually pretty common, and reactions can be mild (itching and swelling in the mouth usually) or life-threatening (such as difficulty breathing), and can worsen over time due to a process known as sensitization. It’s important to speak to an allergist if you think you might be experiencing symptoms.
I’ve always felt that almond trees are exceptionally beautiful. The delicate white and pink blossoms contrast the dark, wiry branches in a striking and majestic way, as is fitting for this wonderful nut, abundant with nutrients and vitamins. They make the perfect snack, and the flavor seems to compliment everything from baking to salad to rice to ice cream. Healthy eating should never be a chore, and with naturally sweet, awesomely crunchy, delicious foods this good for you, it really doesn’t have to be.