If humans could design the perfect nut, chances are it would be very much like an almond! These versatile, tasty nuggets contain more nutrients -including an especially rich supply of vitamin E, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium – than any other nut. High in protein and fiber, easily absorbed, they’re the only nut having an alkalinizing effect on the body, which is conducive to a disease-free internal environment. They’re very high in fat (78% of calories), BUT it’s the “good” monounsaturated fatty acids linked to a healthier heart and weight control. And to top it off, these nuts have divine caché: in the Bible’s “Book of Numbers” Aaron’s rod blossomed and bore almonds, symbol of approval from above.
Throughout history, almonds have been major players. The ancient Egyptians prized their medicinal powers to treat anything from colds to cancer. Beginning as far back as 200 B.C., they were the perfect “snack food” for explorers traveling the “Silk Road” between Asia and the Mediterranean. Ayervedic doctors prescribed them for digestive, skin, dental problems and ground them into a paste added to porridge to help pass kidney stones.
Nowadays researchers are fascinated with nuts in general, almonds in particular. Studies show that a daily supply of almonds is very heart friendly: lowering LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and blood pressure, reducing buildup of fatty plaque in arteries. In fact, almond is usually listed among the top nutritional heart protectors, along with fish, garlic, veggies, red wine, apple and cacao. Studies are also finding links between almond consumption and lower risk of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic diseases. In a nutshell, this nut’s got it all!
Raw nuts are best. The high heat of roasting kills enzymes and reduces nutrients. The commercial roasting process of nuts is a form of deep-frying, usually in saturated fat, such as refined coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Deep fried foods have been shown to increase LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and to thicken larger artery walls. Avoid salted or sweetened nuts.
Caveat: Almonds do contain oxalates, naturally occurring acids in plants, animals and humans. In excess, oxalates may inhibit calcium absorption and can crystallize and cause health problems. For individuals with existing kidney or gallbladder problems, doctors may advise avoiding almonds. But if your digestive tract is healthy and you take care to chew well, oxalates should not be a deterrent to regular almond consumption (1-2 ounces daily).
Heart protector: A regular daily 1-2 ounce dose of raw almonds is loaded with heart-helping factors. The high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) lower cholesterol and improve the ratio of “bad” LDL to “good” HDL. Plant sterols, a natural compound similar to cholesterol, help block absorption of cholesterol to keep arteries clog-free. Folate, a B vitamin is linked to lower buildup of fatty plaque in arteries, while Vitamin E aids circulation, lowering risk of heart attack, potassium lowers blood pressure and magnesium is a heart calming mineral. The high fiber content of almonds contributes to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and helps to reduce and stabilize weight.
So what would be the best heart-friendly meal? A team of British researchers created a dinner menu containing their statistically derived top 6 nutritional heart protectors, including fish with slivered almonds on top, garlic, vegetables, a glass of red wine, an apple for dessert and a small piece of dark chocolate (raw cacao). They concluded that eating these foods everyday would reduce cardiovascular events like “angina, heart attacks and stroke by 76% and extend life by an average of 6.6 years.”
Brain food: The rich array of nutrients in almonds enhance the development of the brain. This includes phenylalanine, a brain-boosting chemical that aids development of cognitive function. Almonds are an excellent snack for growing brains in children (soak 2-3 nuts in water for an easy nosh). Raw nuts, especially almonds, have also been linked to lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Weight loss: Almonds are not stingy with calories. A handful supplies 150-200 a day. If you snack on 2 ounces (about 2 small handfuls) a day, that’s 400 calories – around 20% of your total daily intake. BUT here’s the big surprise: studies show that people who eat almonds at least twice a week are less likely to gain weight! Other studies have discovered that adding almonds to the diet doesn’t cause weight gain because people start eating less of other fatty foods, like meat and dairy.
Scientists at Purdue University took a closer look at the effects of almond eating by asking a group of healthy volunteers to chew a mouthful of 10 almonds either 10, 25, or 45 times. Researchers noted that eating almonds “acutely suppressed” hunger, creating an “elevated fullness” – a feeling of satisfaction after eating. They discovered that the ideal amount of chewing for these benefits is 25 times per mouthful.
Skin care: Almond oil is nourishing for the skin and is often recommended for newborn babies. The oil or milk is also added to soaps to improve complexion.
Cancer prevention: Almonds, very high in fiber, improve the movement of food through the colon, lowering incidence of colon cancer.
Diabetes protection: Almonds reduce the rise in sugar and insulin levels after meals which lowers risk of Type II Diabetes.
Healthy pregnancy: Almonds contain Folic Acid which plays a role in healthy cell growth and tissue formation and, therefore, helps reduce incidence of birth defects in newborns.
Constipation prevention: Fiber-rich foods, like almonds, help prevent constipation. Just 4 – 5 almonds every day – well chewed – and follow with some water.
Energy booster: Energy production is enhanced by the almond’s generous amount of manganese, copper, riboflavin.
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)