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.
They are native to the Middle East, but the US is now the world’s largest producer. The almonds you can buy in stores usually have the shell removed, revealing the edible nut inside. They are sold either raw or roasted. They are also used to produce almond milk, oil, butter, flour or marzipan.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of almonds contains:
- Fiber: 3.5 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 14 grams (9 of which are monounsaturated)
- Vitamin E: 37% of the RDI
- Manganese: 32% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 20% of the RDI
- They also contain copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and phosphorus.
This is all from a small handful, which supplies only 161 calories and 2.5 grams of digestible carbohydrates.
Almonds are also high in phytic acid, a substance that binds certain minerals and prevents them from being absorbed. Please refer to the blog posted on June 26, 2019, Soaking Seeds and Nuts to learn how to make almonds more bioavailable. Phytic acid reduces the amount of iron, zinc and calcium you get from almonds.
Almonds have a high oxalate content. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide variety of foods, and in the case of certain medical conditions, they must be greatly restricted to prevent over-accumulation inside the body.
Tree nuts, such as almonds, are among the eight food types considered to be major food allergens in the U.S., requiring identification on food labels.
Almonds are are good source of antioxidants which help protect against oxidative stress. The powerful antioxidants in almonds are largely concentrated in the brown layer of the skin. For this reason avoid blanched almonds, those with skin removed.
A clinical trial in 60 male smokers found that about 3 ounces of almonds per day reduced oxidative stress biomarkers by 23 – 34% over a four-week period. These findings support those of another study which found that eating almonds with main meals reduced markers of oxidative damage.
Almonds are among the world’s best sources of vitamin E, with just 1 ounce providing 37% of the RDI. Vitamin E is a family of fat-soluble antioxidants. These antioxidants tend to build up in cell membranes in your body, protecting your cells from oxidative damage.
“We have identified a unique combination of flavonoids in almonds,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., senior scientist and director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University. “Further blood tests demonstrated that eating almonds with their skins significantly increases both flavonoids and vitamin E in the body. This could have significant health implications, especially as people age.”
Nuts are low in carbs but high in healthy fats, protein and fiber. This makes them a perfect choice for people with diabetes.
Almonds contain a high amount of magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral involved in more than 300 bodily processes, including blood sugar control. The current RDI for magnesium is 310–420 mg. A handful of almonds provide almost 150 mg of magnesium.
25 – 38% of people with type 2 diabetes are deficient in magnesium. Correcting this deficiency significantly lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin function. People without diabetes also see major reductions in insulin resistance when supplementing with magnesium. This indicates that high-magnesium foods such as almonds may help prevent metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
The magnesium in almonds may additionally help lower blood pressure levels. A deficiency in magnesium is strongly linked to high blood pressure regardless of whether you are overweight.
High levels of LDL lipoproteins in your blood is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. A 16-week study in 65 people with prediabetes found that a diet providing 20% of calories from almonds lowered LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 12.4 mg/dL. Another study found that eating 1.5 ounces of almonds per day lowered LDL cholesterol by 5.3 mg/dL while maintaining HDL cholesterol. Participants also lost belly fat.
If you’ve been reluctant to add almonds to your diet because of their high calorie count, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition may help convince you to give these nutrient-dense nuts a try.
In this study, the normal eating patterns of 43 men and 38 women were followed for 6 months. Then they were told to eat approximately 2 ounces or one-quarter cup of almonds daily but were given no other instructions about changing their diet, and followed for an additional 6 months. By the end of the study, a number of very beneficial changes were seen to naturally occur.
While eating almonds, study participants’ intake of health-promoting monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vegetable protein, vitamin E, copper and magnesium significantly increased by 12 – 43% over the course of the trial.
At the same time, their intake of trans fatty acids, animal protein, sodium, cholesterol and sugars significantly decreased by 9-21%. Both sets of changes in nutrient intake closely match the dietary recommendations known to prevent cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
How to Buy
Almonds that are still in their shells have the longest shelf life. If purchasing these, look for shells that are not split, moldy or stained. Shelled almonds that are stored in an hermetically sealed container will last longer than those that are sold in bulk bins since they are less exposed to heat, air and humidity.
If purchasing almonds in bulk bins, make sure that the store has a quick turnover of inventory and that the bulk containers are sealed well in order to ensure maximum freshness. Look for almonds that are uniform in color and not limp or shriveled. In addition, smell the almonds. They should smell sweet and nutty; if their odor is sharp or bitter, they are rancid.
Whole Foods now has soaked/dried almonds available in bulk, as do many local local health food stores.
How to Store
Since almonds have a high fat content, it is important to store them properly in order to protect them from becoming rancid. Store shelled almonds in a tightly sealed container, in a cool dry place away from exposure to sunlight.
Keeping them cold will further protect them from rancidity and prolong their freshness. Refrigerated almonds will keep for several months, while if stored in the freezer, almonds can be kept for up to a year. Shelled almond pieces will become rancid more quickly than whole shelled almonds. Almonds still in the shell have the longest shelf life.
How to Cook
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.
To roast almonds at home, do so gently – in a 160-170°F oven for 15-20 minutes to preserve the healthy oils.
I don’t recommend blanching almonds because blanching nuts removes their skin and they are no longer considered a whole food.
Some ideas to incorporate almonds into your diet:
- Add a handful to plain yogurt by mixing in some chopped almonds and dried fruit.
- Sauté curried vegetables with sliced almonds.
- Add some almond butter to a breakfast shake to boost its taste and protein content.
- Almonds or almond butter and apple slices
- A cold rice salad with almonds, fresh garden peas and currants.