The World's Healthiest Foods
Almonds

Fortunately, the delicately flavored and versatile almond is available throughout the year to make a healthy and tasty addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Although packaged almonds are available year round, they are in season in mid-summer when they are at their freshest.

The almond that we think of as a nut is technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a medium-size tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Like its cousins, the peach, cherry and apricot trees, the almond tree bears fruits with stone-like seeds (or pits) within. The seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut.

 


Health Benefits

Lower LDL-Cholesterol and Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

A high-fat food that's good for your health? That's not an oxymoron, its almonds. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats as are found in olive oil, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Five large human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Health Study, the Adventist Health Study and the Physicians Health Study, all found that nut consumption is linked to a lower risk for heart disease. Researchers who studied data from the Nurses Health Study estimated that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30% reduction in heart disease risk. Researchers calculated even more impressive risk reduction--45%--when fat from nuts was substituted for saturated fats (found primarily found in meat and dairy products).

This reduced risk of heart disease may be due, in part, to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found in the almonds, as well as to the LDL-lowering effect of almonds' monounsaturated fats. (LDL is the form of cholesterol that has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease). When almonds are substituted for more traditional fats in human feeding trials, LDL cholesterol can be reduced from 8 to 12%.

In addition to healthy fats and vitamin E, a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 98 mg of magnesium (that's 24.4% of the daily value for this important mineral), plus 258 mg of potassium.

Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, is another mineral that is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Almonds promote your cardiovascular health by providing 298 mg of potassium and only 0.4 mg of sodium, making almonds an especially good choice to in protecting against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

Almond's Healthy Fats May Help You Lose Weight

A study published in the November 2003 issue of the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders that included 65 overweight and obese adults suggests that an almond-enriched low calorie diet (which is high in monounsaturated fats), can help overweight individuals shed pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates. Those on the almond-enriched low calorie diet consumed 39% of their calories in the form of fat, 25% of which was monounsaturated fat. In contrast, those on the low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates consumed only 18% of their calories as fat, of which 5% was monounsaturated fat, while 53% of their calories were derived from carbohydrate. Both diets supplied the same number of calories and equivalent amounts of protein. After 6 months, those on the almond-enriched diet had greater reductions in weight (-18 vs. -11%), their waistlines (-14 vs. -9%), body fat (-30 vs. -20%), total body water (-8 vs. -1%), and systolic blood pressure (-11 vs. 0%). Those eating almonds experienced a 62% greater reduction in their weight/BMI (body mass index), 50% greater reduction in waist circumference, and 56% greater reduction in body fat compared to those on the low calorie high carbohydrate diet! Among those subjects who had type 1 diabetes, diabetes medication reductions were sustained or further reduced in 96% of those on the almond-enriched diet versus in 50% of those on the complex carbohydrate diet. (January 2, 2004)

Manganese, Copper & Riboflavin--More Help with Energy Production

Almonds are a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, two trace minerals that are essential cofactors of a key oxidative enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within our cells), thus keeping our energy flowing. Fortunately, Mother Nature supplies both mineral cofactors in almonds. Just one-quarter cup of almonds supplies 45.0% of the daily value for manganese, and 19.5% of the daily value for copper. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) also plays at least two important roles in the body's energy production. When active in energy production pathways, riboflavin takes the form of flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) or flavin mononucleotide (FMN). In these forms, riboflavin attaches to protein enzymes called flavoproteins that allow oxygen-based energy production to occur.

Flavoproteins are found throughout the body, particularly in locations where oxygen-based energy production is constantly needed, such as the heart and other muscles. Riboflavin's other role in energy production is protective.

The oxygen-containing molecules the body uses to produce energy can be highly reactive and can inadvertently cause damage to the mitochondria and even the cells themselves. In the mitochondria, such damage is largely prevented by a small, protein-like molecule called glutathione. Like many "antioxidant" molecules, glutathione must be constantly recycled, and it is vitamin B2 that allows this recycling to take place. (Technically, vitamin B2 is a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione reductase that reduces the oxidized form of glutathione back to its reduced version.) That same one-quarter cup of almonds will supply your cells with 17.1% of the daily value for riboflavin.

Promote Colon Health

In an animal study of the effect of almonds on colon cancer, animals were exposed to a colon-cancer causing agent and fed either almond meal, almond oil, whole almonds or a control diet containing no almonds. The animals given whole almonds showed fewer signs of colon cancer, including fewer rapidly dividing cells. One reason may be almonds high fiber content: just a quarter-cup of almonds contains 4 grams of fiber, that's 16.8% of the daily value for fiber.

Help Prevent Gallstones

Twenty years of dietary data collected on 80,718 women from the Nurses' Health Study shows that women who eat least 1 ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. Since 1 ounce is only 28.6 nuts or about 2 tablespoons of nut butter, preventing gallbladder disease may be as easy as packing one peanut butter and jelly sandwich (be sure to use whole wheat bread for its fiber, vitamins and minerals) for lunch each week, having a handful of almonds as an afternoon pick me up, or tossing some walnuts on your oatmeal or salad. (June 30, 2004)

A Protein Powerhouse

Almonds are concentrated in protein. A quarter-cup contains 7.55 grams--15.1% of the daily value for protein and more protein than is provided by the typical egg, which contains 5.54 grams.

Description

The almond that we think of as a nut is technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a glorious medium-size tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Like its cousins, the peach, cherry and apricot trees, the almond tree bears fruits with stone-like seeds (or pits) within. The seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut.

Almonds are off-white in color, covered by a thin brownish skin, and encased in a hard shell. Almonds are classified into two categories: sweet (Prunus amygdalu var. dulcis) and bitter (Prunus amygdalu var. amara).

Sweet almonds are the type that are eaten. They are oval in shape, usually malleable in texture and wonderfully buttery in taste. They are available in the market either still in their shell or with their shell removed. Shelled almonds are available whole, sliced or slivered in either their natural form, with their skin, or blanched, with their skin removed.

Bitter almonds are used to make almond oil that is used as a flavoring agent for foods and liqueurs such as Amaretto. They are otherwise inedible as they naturally contain toxic substances such as hydrocanic acid. These compounds are removed in the manufacturing of almond oil.

History

Almonds are an ancient food that has been written about in historical texts, including the Bible. Almonds were thought to have originated in regions in western Asia and North Africa. The Romans referred to almonds as the “Greek nut” in reference to the civilization suggested to have first cultivated them.

Almonds are now grown in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Morocco, as well as in California. The cultivation of almonds in California, the only state that produces them, has an interesting history. Almond trees were originally brought to California centuries ago when missions were created by the Spanish, but cultivation of the trees was abandoned when the missions were closed. Almond trees found their way back to California in the 19th century via the eastern United States. In 1840, almond trees were brought over from Europe and were first planted in New England. Because the climate on the Eastern seaboard did not support their cultivation, the trees were brought to California where they thrived and continue to do so.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

In addition to being eaten raw, almonds are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked goods.

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Almonds:

Whole shelled almonds can be chopped by hand or can be placed in a food processor. If using a food processor, it is best to pulse on and off a few times, instead of running the blade constantly, as this will help ensure that you end up with chopped almonds rather than almond butter.

If you want to remove the almonds' skin, blanch them for a few of minutes until you notice the skin beginning to swell. Drain them and then rinse under cold water. Pinch the cooled almonds between your thumb and index finger, and the skin should slide right off the almond meat.

To roast almonds at home, do so gently--in a 160-170 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes--to preserve the healthy oils.

A few quick serving ideas:

Add a punch to plain yogurt by mixing in some chopped almonds and dried fruit.

Enhance a healthy sauté of curried vegetables with sliced almonds.

Add some almond butter to a breakfast shake to boost its taste and protein content.

Almonds and apple slices make a wonderfully simple, on-the-go power snack.

Make a delightful cold rice salad with almonds, fresh garden peas and currants.

Add sliced almonds to Oriental Chicken Salad.

Safety

The commercial roasting process of nuts is a form of deep-frying, usually in saturated fat, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Deep-fried foods have been linked to high levels of LDL (the bad form of cholesterol) and to thickening of larger artery walls.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Almonds
0.25 cup
205.19 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin E 9.29 mg 46.4 4.1 very good
manganese 0.90 mg 45.0 3.9 very good
tryptophan 0.11 g 34.4 3.0 good
magnesium 97.63 mg 24.4 2.1 good
copper 0.39 mg 19.5 1.7 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.29 mg 17.1 1.5 good
phosphorus 168.27 mg 16.8 1.5 good
dietary fiber 4.19 g 16.8 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Abbey M, Noakes M, Belling GB, Nestel PJ. Partial replacement of saturated fatty acids with almonds or walnuts lowers total plasma cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. Am J Clin Nutr 1994 May;59(5):995-9.
  • Durlach J. Commentary on recent clinical advances: almonds, monounsaturated fats, magnesium and hypolipidaemic diets. Magnes Res 1992 Dec;5(4):315.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fraser GE. Nut consumption, lipids, and risk of a coronary event. Clin Cardiol 1999 Jul;22(7 Suppl):III11-5.
  • Hu FB, Stampfer MJ. Nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. Curr Atheroscler Rep 1999 Nov;1(3):204-9.
  • Lim GP, Chu T, Yang F, et al. The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse. J Neurosci 2001 Nov 1;21(21):8370-7.
  • Margen S and the Editor, Univ of California at Berkley Wellness Letter. The Wellness Encyclopedia of food and nutrition. New York: Health Letter Associates 1992.
  • Tsai CJ, Leitzmann MF, Hu FB, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL. . Frequent nut consumption and decreased risk of cholecystectomy in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jul;80(1):76-81.
  • Wien MA, Sabate JM, Ikle DN, Cole SE, Kandeel FR. Almonds vs complex carbohydrates in a weight reduction program. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 Nov;27(11):1365-72.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.
  • Zittlau E. [Effect of sweet almonds on the stress ulcer in rats]. Dtsch Tierarztl Wochenschr 1985 Apr 9;92(4):151-4.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-21 00:28:10
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation