What Are Almonds?
The almond (prunus amygdalus) is a seed that grows on almond trees and is related to peaches, plums and cherries. Almonds are commonly known as nuts and have distinctive characteristics discernible from other nuts. Almonds are an elliptical shape, or oval shape reminiscent of the ovary or eye. A part of the brain known as the amygdala is named after the almond as it shares a similar shape. Almonds are among the earliest known cultivated fruit trees. Evidence of domesticated almond trees exists from the early Bronze Age. Almond trees are deciduous and can grow to heights of 10 metres with a 30cm trunk diameter. The trees yield beautiful flowers that are white and pink, appearing in the early spring time.
Nutrient Content of Almonds
According to a 2021 review published in Nutrients, almonds are a stand out nut when it comes to their total nutrient value. Compared to other nuts, a serving of almonds contains a very high amount of fibre, protein and unsaturated fat. They also contain minerals, plant steroids and polyphenols. This makes almonds a very nutrient-dense nut.
Almonds are also valuable sources of:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin E
Almonds are High in Vitamin E
What makes almonds pretty special is that they’re exceptionally high in vitamin E. Vitamin E is a group of compounds that are fat-soluble, required by the body and are usually obtained through foods. Vitamin E is also known as tocopherols or tocotrienols, and come in 4 different forms. These forms are alpha, beta, gamma and delta-tocopherol. Alpha-tocopherol is the form most prevalently used in the body, and is the form most commonly seen in supplements. A mix of tocopherols is usually present in almonds.
In the body, vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant. It quenches free radicals in cell membranes, and prevents damage to cell walls. Vitamin E has various other functions in the body, including:
- Supporting macular and eye health
- Smooth muscle activation
- Cofactor for enzyme activity
- Regulates gene expression
- Protects cell integrity
- Nerve conduction
- Protects brain cells
Health Benefits of Almonds
Nut consumption, including almonds, has been extensively associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality and chronic conditions. Taking a closer look at almonds, there’s solid research to support their benefits in some specific areas of health.
Almonds are great for:
- Skin health
- Cognitive function
- Energy production
- Regulating weight
- Balancing blood sugar levels
- Supporting gut-brain function
Almonds Improve Cognitive Function
Almonds are full of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This makes them a fantastic food for brain health, while improving cognition and learning. Foods that are naturally high in fat are protective for cell membranes and help transport fat-soluble vitamins to their target tissues. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamin A, D, E and K. These vitamins are important for hormones, liver function and immune function. High fat foods are broadly neuroprotective and provide the brain with sustained energy. Consuming almonds will ensure your body and mind have the nutrients required to meet your energy needs throughout the day, while staying alert and focussed.
Almonds Reduce Wrinkles and Pigmentation
An interesting study from 2021 assessed the anti-wrinkle effects of almonds in a group of post-menopausal women. Midway through the trial and again at the end, the results showed that wrinkle severity was decreased in women who consumed almonds during the study. A 20% reduction in pigmentation was also demonstrated among study participants. These results support the beneficial effects of almonds in maintaining skin health, promoting youthfulness and reducing skin damage.
Almonds Improve Gut Microbiome Diversity
Foods that promote microbiome diversity and proliferation have widespread health benefits to many body systems. Another meta-analysis on the effects of almonds and gut health was published in the journal Nutrients. This study established that almond-based diets improve gut microbe diversity. A range of studies in this meta-analysis suggest that short-chain-fatty acid production was higher due to almond consumption. This means that populations of beneficial bacteria are higher, which has upstream advantages to brain and immune health.
Almonds Improve Glucose Control
Another group of studies demonstrated that almonds were effective in lowering glycated haemoglobin levels in diabetic patients. The authors concluded that almonds have a unique nutrient profile, including polyphenols and fibre which contributes to their glucose-lowering effects. Almonds are also a naturally low G.I. food, which helps displace other unhealthy foods and maintain an overall lower blood glucose level. Almonds also appear to alter hunger signalling and improve satiety, helping you feel fuller for longer.
Almonds Improve Metabolic Health
A meta-analysis involving 27 studies showed the beneficial effects of almonds and cardiovascular disease. In particular, almond consumption altered cholesterol concentrations, which improved blood vessel health. High blood pressure is also reduced by eating almonds. However, the research indicates that an amount of 42.5g/day is a therapeutic dose to achieve this result. This equates to roughly 3 tablespoons of almonds, which may not be a realistic dietary habit for most people. Despite this, enjoying almonds in modest amounts every day is certainly still a healthy choice for improving metabolic health.
Almonds Support Weight Loss
Almonds are again an important functional food for supporting healthy weight. A large systematic review including 28 randomised controlled trials revealed that almonds significantly decreased body weight and total fat mass, which was consistent amongst both short and longer term studies.
How To Enjoy Almonds
Almonds can be bought unshelled but are more commonly available shelled, blanched, slivered, raw or roasted. A decent individual serve of almonds is around a handful. More specifically, ¼ cup would do nicely as an everyday snack. There’s so many ways to enjoy almonds, here's just a few:
- Eat a handful raw during the day or after dinner
- Add slivered almonds to granola or porridge
- Roast almonds and add cinnamon sugar
- Bake into breads and muffins
- Use almond flour for cakes and puddings
Almonds have been the centrepiece of many desserts, sweet bakes and treats across many cultures for centuries. Almonds can be baked right into bread, candied for celebrations, made into marzipan, frangipane macaroons, biscuits and cookies. Modern ways to enjoy almonds are as almond butter, almond meal or almond flour and almond milk.
Healthy Almond Nougat
- 3 cups of toasted almonds
- 1 cup of buckwheat
- ½ cup of blitzed dates or sultanas
- ½ cup of almond butter
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1 cup of rice malt syrup
- Toast the buckwheat on a medium to low heat until slightly golden
- Blend 2 cups of almonds with the buckwheat. Chop the remaining 1 cup of almonds roughly
- Mix all the almonds together with the buckwheat and dates/sultanas
- Place the rice malt syrup in a small pot and heat gently with almond butter and peanut butter.
- Remove once hot and combined and add the almonds, buckwheat and date/sultana mixture.
- Stir to combine and transfer to a flat pan
- With a spatula, flatten the nougat mixture and shape by hand if needed.
- Set in the fridge for 2 hours before slicing. Enjoy!
Asbaghi, O., Moodi, V., Hadi, A., Eslampour, E., Shirinbakhshmasoleh, M., Ghaedi, E., & Miraghajani, M. (2021). The effect of almond intake on lipid profile: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Food & function, 12(5), 1882–1896. https://doi.org/10.1039/d0fo02878a
Bolling, B. W., Chen, C. Y., McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2011). Tree nut phytochemicals: composition, antioxidant capacity, bioactivity, impact factors. A systematic review of almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nutrition research reviews, 24(2), 244–275. https://doi.org/10.1017/S095442241100014X
Dreher M. L. (2021). A Comprehensive Review of Almond Clinical Trials on Weight Measures, Metabolic Health Biomarkers and Outcomes, and the Gut Microbiota. Nutrients, 13(6), 1968. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13061968
Eslampour, E., Moodi, V., Asbaghi, O., Ghaedi, E., Shirinbakhshmasoleh, M., Hadi, A., & Miraghajani, M. (2020). The effect of almond intake on anthropometric indices: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Food & function, 11(9), 7340–7355. https://doi.org/10.1039/d0fo00470g
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