Benefits of almonds – Almonds are Good for You
Almonds have a long history of use dating back as far as 1400 BC in recorded data. It is thought that perhaps they were even consumed by prehistoric cavemen and a source of food for many prehistoric animals. The book, the Bible of Numbers mentions almonds in a passage that describes Aaron’s rod which blossomed and bore almonds. It was believed to be symbolic of God’s divine approval of Aaron.
In 100AD, the Romans would shower newly weds with almonds as a ritual to promote fertility. The almond tree is native to the Middle East and South Asia but today grows in many countries around the world. The United States is now the largest producer and exporter of almonds and almond products to the world. This article discusses the nutrient profile of almonds, their proven health benefits and associated side effects.
Nutritional Profile of Almonds
Almonds are a nutrient dense food source. They are packed with health promoting properties. Many people avoid eating any type of nut, fearing weight gain, but the truth about nuts including almonds is that they contain a greater percentage of healthy fats compared to unhealthy fats. A one ounce serving of almonds (approximately 24 almonds) contains 14 grams of fat. Most of this fat is healthy monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
They are also a good source of lean protein, containing 6 grams of protein in a one ounce serving. They are also an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids which are recommended for heart and brain health. From a vitamin perspective they are a rich source of vitamin E and the B complex vitamins including riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, panthothenic acid, vitamin B6 and folates. From a mineral perspective they contain rich sources of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, potassium, zinc and selenium. Almonds that are eaten with the skin provide the added benefit of flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. Additionally they are a good source of fiber containing 6 grams of fiber and 170 calories in a one ounce serving.
Health Benefits of Almonds
Eating almonds in moderation can reward you with many health benefits. Almonds make the perfect snack as an alternative to unhealthy, empty calorie snacks such as potato chips, cake and biscuits for example. A study showed that when a group of average weight people consumed a 360 calorie serving of almonds a day as a snack option over a 10 week period did not gain any weight. The group who ate the almonds also did not make any other changes to their regular diets or increase exercise activity over the 10 week period.
The following are health benefits that have been proven by science that you can expect to be rewarded with by consuming a handful of almonds a day.
Lowers Bad Blood Cholesterol
Almonds contain large amounts of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat compared to their low saturated fat content. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats have been proven to help reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood. Saturated fats, sourced from the diet cause the build up of fatty plaques on the walls of arteries. Initially these fatty plaques cause an increase in blood pressure because the heart has to work so much harder to pump blood through these arteries. Over time, these fatty plaques can completely occlude the flow of blood through them, leading to heart disease, heart attack and or stroke. Additionally, almonds are rich sources of vitamin E, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids which are known to promote heart health.
The skin that surrounds the almond contains flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. It is recommended to eat almonds with the skin to benefit from the flavonoids compared to skinless almonds such as slithered almonds and blanched almonds. Antioxidants are known to rid the body of free radicals. Free radicals are the by products of food metabolism. They can cause the inflammation of healthy bodily tissue. Inflammation is the precursor to many serious diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Reduces Alzheimer’s Risk
A study showed that mice with Alzheimer’s disease who were fed a diet rich in almonds for 4 months showed remarkable improvement in memory tests compared to a group of mice who were given a normal diet. One of the researchers stated that almonds contain chemicals similar to some of the drugs currently used to treat Alzheimer’s disease in humans. More studies need to be performed to prove or disprove this benefit for humans.
Almonds are a rich source of fiber. Eaten in moderation, a handful as a snack can help you feel fuller for longer and satisfy hunger pains. Fiber is not easily digested and stays in the stomach for much longer, unlike other snack options. They are also low on the glycaemic index, meaning they do not cause an insulin spike in the blood. Insulin spikes in the blood occur after eating a sugary food. The increase in insulin causes the liver to convert sugar into fat rather than it being absorbed into cells to be used for energy. Therefore fat is stored on the body resulting in weight gain. A study also showed that a group of people, who substituted almonds as a snack daily as an alternative to unhealthy snacks, actually did not crave sugary or fatty foods over a 3 month period. This led them to make healthier food choices when preparing each meal during the day resulting in weight loss. Some scientists have claimed that people who eat almonds daily tend to weigh less than people who don’t include them in their daily diets.
Promotes Healthy Skin, Hair and Nails
Almonds are a rich source of magnesium. Magnesium is needed for healthy hair. Some people who have low levels of blood magnesium can suffer from many symptoms including hair loss. Together with magnesium and vitamin E, eating a daily handful of almonds a day can reward you with healthy skin and nails. They are also recommended for people to help prevent acne breakouts and as a treatment for acne, when consumed, due to their rich sources of vitamin E and manganese.
Treatment and Prevention of Arthritis
The vitamin E and magnesium content of almonds can help to reduce and or prevent inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation in painful joints. Magnesium is also known to be low in blood levels of people who suffer with arthritic joints and even gout. It is recommended to eat a handful of almonds a day as a treatment for arthritic conditions or as a prevention measure.
Induces Sleep and Releases the Feel Good Hormone Serotonin
Almonds contain the chemical tryptophan. Tryptophan is known to help regulate our asleep/awake cycles. Eating a handful of almonds one hour before retiring to bed can help you fall asleep quicker and have a more restful sleep. Additionally tryptophan stimulates the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known as the feel good hormone. Healthy levels of serotonin in the brain can help lift your spirits and improve your overall mood.
Side Effects of Almonds
Almonds are generally well tolerated in moderation. They can cause a severe allergic reaction in some sensitive people, especially if you are allergic to other nut varieties. Eating a handful of almonds a day will not result in weight gain. If you indulge in them too much you will definitely notice unwanted weight gain. Eating too many can also result in gastrointestinal disturbances such as constipation and abdominal bloating. It is recommended to drink plenty of water when eating fiber rich foods to help with overall digestion.
In conclusion, almonds have an impressive list of health benefits. They make a great snack alternative and or can be added to cereals, yoghurts, cooked vegetables and salads. As a rich source of protein, almonds are a great alternative to meat based proteins for vegans and vegetarians. Additionally they help to curb the appetite and are a much healthier snack option. It has been said that almonds are one of the most nutritious nuts of all. Add a handful to your daily diet and be rewarded with overall good health.