Versatile and delicious almonds, scientifically known as Prunus dulcis are the nutrient-dense edible seeds contained in the hard-shelled stone fruit that grows on almond trees. Although originally hailing from the Middle East, these nuts are cherished globally, with the US being the leading producer currently. Given the fact that these brown-cased crunchy treats grow on trees cocooned in a pale green perforated shell, they are different from other nuts of their ilk and are often referred to as drupes. Another title accorded to almonds is that it’s a ‘superfood’, although this characterization has more to do with marketing than science. Dieticians and other food experts do not find sufficient evidence for the existence of a distinct class of foods that are so nutrient rich as to be “superfoods.”
One thing is certain, though: almonds contain a lot of high-quality protein, vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, and many essential amino acids, as well as copper, B vitamins, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and various healthy fats. However, almonds also pack a lot of calories, owing to the fact they are rich in monounsaturated fat.
Almonds come in two varieties: sweet and bitter. Traditionally, sweet almonds are edible, whereas bitter almonds are used to make almond oil. Both these varieties are sold in grocery stores everywhere and are available online as well.
You can eat almonds raw or you can soak them in water overnight and eat them the next day. It has been suggested that the latter technique enhances the health-promoting goodness of almonds by doing away with the tannin-containing peel that impedes nutrient absorption. Once the peel is removed, the nut can release its therapeutic potential far more easily. Moreover, almonds that are soaked in water for 8 hours are good enough to eat for about a week thereafter.
Nowadays, the health benefits of these nutty delights have been tapped in a variety of almond-based products, such as almond milk, almond flour, and almond butter, all of which is an easy find in most supermarkets, especially in whole food markets.
Sipping on creamy homemade almond milk, digging into strawberry-topped almond meal pancakes, or enjoying rice, pasta, or sautéed vegetables sprinkled with slivered almonds are just some of the scrumptious ways you can consume almonds to optimize your health.
Risk Factors Involved
- Wild almonds are considered to be toxic for consumption.
- Children below the age of 1 should not be fed this nut as they will find it hard to stomach it.
- Almond allergies are quite common and render a person completely unable to reap the benefits of this nourishing nut as well as any other product which use it as an ingredient.
- Since almonds are oxalate-rich, they are not safe to be consumed by people with kidney or gallbladder problems involving oxalates.(1)
Merits of Adding Almonds to Your Diet
Here are the top 10 health benefits of almonds.
1. Lowers Bad Cholesterol
Consuming almonds can help regulate one’s cholesterol level by virtue of their ability to help raise the level of HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol) and reduce the level of LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol). This cardioprotective effect is linked to their generous supply of heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
These effects have been demonstrated in a number of controlled studies and subsequent meta-analyses (statistical number crunching) of these studies. For instance, in 2016, a group of Canadian researchers carried out a meta-analysis of data from 18 controlled studies and demonstrated that almond intake significantly reduced the total cholesterol and LDL levels in the study participants.(2)
Similarly, in another 2017 study, Penn State researchers compared the HDL levels and function in people who ate almonds every day with the HDL levels and function of the same group of people when they ate a muffin instead. They found that during the time the participants ate almonds, their HDL levels and function improved.(3)
2. Helps Control Diabetes
Almonds may also help control blood sugar levels and prevent some of the complications of diabetes. Their nutrient composition, which is low in carbs but high in fats, proteins, and fiber, makes them a diabetic’s delight. Further enhancing the antidiabetic potential of this nut is the rich supply of magnesium, which has shown to reduce insulin resistance even in nondiabetics.
In a randomized controlled crossover study carried out in China in 2017 and published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism (London), 40 Chinese participants with well-controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus were randomly assigned to either a control group, who ate a National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) II-based diet, or an experimental group, who adhered to an NCEP step II diet to which was added 60 grams of almonds daily. The study had a 2-week run-in period in which both groups followed the NCEP step II diet followed by 12 weeks on their respective regimens as outlined above. At the end of the 12 weeks, there was a 2-week washout period during which both groups ate only the NCEP step II diet. After which, the groups crossed over, which is to say those who’d been on the NCEP step II diet only continued on the diet along with 60 grams of almonds daily (in the form of roasted, unsalted whole almonds with skins or derived powder to replace 20% of calories in the diet), whereas the group that had been on the NCEP step II diet and almonds previously stuck to the diet without any almonds.(4)
The results of this study indicate that diabetics who adhere to a prescribed diet along with the added supply of 60 grams of almonds daily experience better regulation of their blood sugar.(4)
3. Supports Heart Health
There are many nutrients in almonds that contribute to heart health.(5) For instance, almonds are rich in magnesium, which improves blood flow (especially in hypertensive people).(6) The stimulated blood flow, in turn, helps ensure the adequate movement and supply of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. This is an important prerequisite for effectively controlling blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attacks or strokes precipitated by the effects of hypertension.
Almonds contain a high level of monounsaturated fats, which are considered “circulatory friendly”.(5) Plus, they have vitamin E, an antioxidant that the body uses to help combat inflammation in arteries and elsewhere in the body.(7) This, in turn, reduces the risk of developing certain forms of heart disease.
- To improve your heart health, including a handful of almonds in your daily diet can be helpful. You can have almonds as a snack or sprinkle some on your soup, salad, or smoothie.
4. Improves Brainpower
Almonds have earned considerable acknowledgment as a good brain food the world over. Much of this acclaim can be credited to the vitamin E stores found in almonds. In a 2015 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that people with a higher than normal blood vitamin E level demonstrated robust scores on tests used to access verbal memory, immediate recall, and verbal fluency.(8)
Plus, almonds are a good source of zinc, a mineral that can protect brain cells from free radical damage.(9) Also, the vitamin B6 in almonds aids in the metabolism of proteins, which are required for brain cell repair.(10)
They also contain phenylalanine, which is converted into tyrosine and is used to produce dopamine, norepinephrine, and other chemicals that play vital roles in attention, memory, and problem-solving.(11)
Furthermore, almonds also possess riboflavin and L-carnitine, which are an added bonus for preserving your cognitive health and may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- To support brain health including cognition and memory, eat a handful of almonds daily.
5. Aids in Weight Loss
Almonds aid in weight loss, thanks to their fiber, protein, and monounsaturated fat content, which tends to make individuals feel full and satiated. This naturally translates into fewer cravings and less likelihood of overeating.
According to a 4-week randomized study conducted at Purdue University and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people in a test group who ate 1.5 ounces of dry-roasted, lightly salted almonds every day for 4 weeks did not gain significant weight compared with those who never or seldom ate almonds. Thus, it has been somewhat established that frequent eaters of this nut are on average thinner than non-eaters. This, compounded by the hunger-fighting effects of almonds, makes them an ideal addition to a great many weight loss programs.(12)
- If you are keeping a close eye on your weight, try not to exceed the recommended serving size of 1 ounce or approximately 23 almonds per day.
- Along with dry roasted almonds, you can also drink unsweetened almond milk.
6. Prevents Birth Defects
Pregnant women who are able to regularly consume almonds may find that almonds help prevent certain birth defects in their babies. The high folic acid content in almonds helps support optimal cell growth and tissue formation, which are important for healthy fetal development. There are studies that indicate that folic acid can prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and anencephaly, in newborn babies.(13)
- If you are pregnant and your ob-gyn has no objections, include almonds in your diet.
7. Prevents Constipation
Almonds are rich in fiber, which helps prevent and alleviate constipation. Many consumers have found that almonds are good in the treatment of heartburn, too. This health benefit is due to their high calcium and magnesium content, which makes them a natural alkaline-forming food.(5)
- Simply eat four or five almonds daily to maintain healthy digestion and bowel movements.
- It has been found that drinking water along with your almond intake can further speed up the digestive process.
8. Strengthens Bones
Almonds are rich in phosphorus and calcium, two very essential nutrients for maintaining bone health. They also have magnesium, manganese, and potassium, which are important for the production and maintenance of healthy, strong bones.(14)
- Try to consume nutrient-rich almonds, almond milk, or almond butter on a regular basis to help support your bone health.
9. Keeps Skin Healthy
Almonds help to maintain young, healthy-looking skin by virtue of its high vitamin E content so much so that they have been a popular ingredient in skin lotions and potions from the time of the ancient Egyptians. This particular vitamin is very good at mopping up the free radicals produced when the sun’s ultraviolet rays strike the skin.(15)
- Many people have found that a massage with almond oil improves their complexion and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Almond oil also tends to have a less greasy feel on the skin than other oils, and many users report that it rarely clogs pores.
- Moreover, slurping on a glass of almond milk can also help moisturize and soften the skin.
10. Solves Hair Issues
Also, the zinc in almonds plays a vital role in the production of new cells. Conversely, the lack of this particular nutrient has often been linked to some forms of hair loss.(16)
- In addition to eating almonds, you might try applying almond oil to your hair at least twice a week. Many people who do this report improved texture and less “frizzies.”
- Brinkley LJ, Gregory J, Pak CY. A further study of oxalate bioavailability in foods. The Journal of Urology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2359186. Published July 1990.
- Veloso KM-, Paulionis L, Lee HY. The effects of almond consumption on fasting blood lipid levels: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Nutritional Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5048189/. Published August 16, 2016.
- Berryman CE, Fleming JA, Kris-Etherton PM. The inclusion of Almonds in a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet Improves Plasma HDL Subspecies and Cholesterol Efflux to Serum in Normal-Weight Individuals with Elevated LDL Cholesterol. The Journal of nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28615375. Published August 2017.
- Chen C- M, Liu J- F, Li S- C. Almonds ameliorate glycemic control in Chinese patients with better-controlled type 2 diabetes: a randomized, crossover, controlled feeding trial. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5541642/. Published August 2, 2017.
- Basic Report: 12061, Nuts, almonds. USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/12061.
- Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/.
- Singh U, Devaraj S, Jialal I. Vitamin E, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Annual Review of Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16011463. Published 2005.
- Beydoun MA, Fanelli-Kuczmarski MT, Kitner-Triolo MH, et al. Dietary antioxidant intake and its association with cognitive function in an ethnically diverse sample of US adults. Psychosomatic Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25478706. Published January 2015.
- Sandstead HH, Frederickson CJ, Penland JG. History of Zinc as Related to Brain Function. The Journal of Nutrition. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/2/496S/4686527. Published February 1, 2000.
- Coursin DB. VITAMIN B6 AND BRAIN FUNCTION IN ANIMALS AND MAN. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1969.tb54251.x. Published December 16, 2006.
- Fernstrom JD, Fernstrom MH. Tyrosine, phenylalanine, and catecholamine synthesis and function in the brain. The Journal of nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17513421. Published June 2007.
- Tan SY, Mattes RD. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24084509. Published November 2013.
- Kancherla V, Wagh K, Johnson Q, Oakley Jr. A 2017 global update on folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly. Birth Defects Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30070772. Published August 15, 2018.
- The Basics of Bone in Health and Disease. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45504/. Published January 1, 1970.
- Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin E. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/.
- Ogawa Y, Kawamura T, Shimada S. Zinc and skin biology. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27288087. Published December 1, 2016.